Pilots soar to the rescue, saving a life and offering comfort in two-car crash rescue

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amanda A. Flower
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

As the flames danced, threatening to consume the entire vehicle and the person trapped inside, these two individuals, driven by an unwavering sense of duty, sprang into action. Their actions would not only change the lives of those they rescued but would also leave a mark on their own souls.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Joshua Saddler, a 65th Special Operations Squadron MQ-9 Reaper pilot, took leave in Dover, Delaware to visit a long-time friend he’d met in college, Capt. Zach Evans, a 3rd Airlift Squadron pilot.

The pair had gone out for dinner and were driving back when they witnessed a truck driving erratically. They suspected the driver was under the influence and called 911 to report the driver to the proper authorities. The two decided they would stay a safe distance behind the driver and would only follow until their exit.

“When I was younger my dad told me, ‘If you ever see someone driving erratically it’s better to call and report it,’” said Saddler. “It’s better to be safe than sorry in a situation like that.”

To their surprise, the erratic driver got off on the same exit they were taking. They were eventually separated when the driver of the truck ran a red light. Moments later, fate intervened as they approached what appeared to be a fireball. It didn’t take long to realize there had been a devastating two-vehicle collision. The “fireball” turned out to be the truck belonging to the drunk driver, now mangled, unrecognizable and quickly going up in flames.

Without hesitation, Saddler and Evans pulled over and rushed to aid the victims. Saddler approached the vehicle struck by the drunk driver, finding a family in a state of shock, trapped and pinned inside. While keeping his composure, he comforted the two family members who were pinned in the vehicle. His training and expertise proved invaluable as he worked to soothe them and evaluate the situation.

“We never once considered not stopping,” said Saddler. “For Zach and me, that just wasn’t an option.”

Meanwhile, Evans sprinted toward the truck, which had caught fire due to the impact. Despite the imminent danger, he discovered the drunk driver with broken legs and in a delirious state. Acting swiftly, Evans managed to extricate the injured driver just moments before the truck became engulfed in flames.

Together, Saddler and Evans waited with all the vehicle occupants, providing support until the arrival of first responders. Their commitment and quick thinking a made difference in the outcome of this accident.

“When you’re a member of an aircrew, you’re trained that you have to make a decision and stick with it,” Saddler said. “At the end of the day whether it is the right or wrong decision, at least you made a decision.”

The city of Dover, Delaware, honored these two individuals on October 23, 2023, by awarding them the Gold Medal, the highest honor the city bestows. Their bravery and quick thinking serve as an inspiration to the Air Force community, said Lt Col Alberto Gilroy, 65th Special Operations Squadron commander.

“Capt. Saddler’s willingness and readiness to react in a crisis does not surprise me. He is a servant leader and always puts the priorities of others above his own,” said Gilroy. “The actions of both Captain Saddler and Capt. Evans are a clear example of great young officers we have serving today.”