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September 24, 2017

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Nellis airmen describe rescuing couple from flood


L.E. Baskow

U.S. Air Force TSgt Adam Dixon and A1C Christopher Fitzgerald, pictured here Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, recently helped save an elderly couple during flash flooding. Dixon and Fitzgerald are based at Nellis Air Force Base.

Nellis Airmen Rescued Couple From Flood

U.S. Air Force TSgt Adam Dixon and A1C Christopher Fitzgerald recount the story of recently helping save an elderly couple from possibly drowning during flash flooding and are currently based at Nellis Air Force Base on Friday, August 8, 2014. Launch slideshow »

Aug. 4 started off like any other rainy day for Tech. Sgt. Adam Dixon and Airman 1st Class Christopher Fitzgerald.

Storm clouds had already dominated the skies and dampened the atmosphere by the time the two airmen ended their shift at Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, just 30 miles outside of Las Vegas.

Typically based at Nellis Air Force Base, the two Southerners didn’t think much of it — they were well-acquainted with rain.

Staying behind at the base just a few minutes later than usual, the airmen completed the last of their work duties before jumping into their separate cars and rolling out onto U.S. 95 toward home.

Moments later, they came to a stop as traffic was halted on a stretch of road so gray that it blended in with the stormy sky at the horizon.

It was on this long stretch of road that Dixon and Fitzgerald, along with seven or eight other airmen, exercised their military instincts after witnessing the wrath of the desert’s downpour.

Rainwater from that day’s storms were running off from the mountains and had begun to flood the southbound lanes of an intersection of the 95 near Indian Springs, leading some drivers to cross the median and escape to the drier northbound lanes.

In the process, a few cars wound up trapped in the median, which had become muddy.

“I went down with a couple of Creech [airmen] to help push the cars,” Dixon said. “There was no standing water. We were just standing in mud at this point.”

Dixon and the other airmen trudged down to a white Toyota Prius occupied by an elderly couple and began to push.

They had moved the car about 2 feet before Dixon noticed a small stream of water headed toward them.

“At that point, I was like, That’s it. Let’s get these people out of here.’ That became my only concern, not trying to push anymore,” Dixon said.

The airmen had no trouble helping the elderly male driver out of the Prius — it was freeing the elderly female passenger that was the problem.

Her door wouldn't open, so Dixon asked the woman to exit the car from the other side.

As she grabbed her purse and climbed over to the driver’s side, the small stream of water quickly grew into a waist-deep river, tugging at Dixon and the other airmen.

All Dixon could hear were the woman’s voice and the sound of the rushing waters, which had begun to cover the floor of the Prius.

The water’s force was so strong that Dixon could feel rocks being pulled out from under his feet. The water even made it difficult for the airmen to hold the driver’s side door open.

One airman was almost swept away by the current as he aided in the rescue, but he was soon pulled out of the water.

Sgt. James Maxwell, from Nellis, plunged into the median and assisted the other men by keeping the door open.

By this time, Fitzgerald had made his way down to help Dixon carry the woman to safety.

“It was pretty difficult just to move my legs up and move over,” Fitzgerald said.

Together, he and Dixon carried the woman above the water and to drier ground, allowing only a few splashes of floodwater to touch her white pants.

“Her husband said, ‘At least now your pants match your shirt’” Fitzgerald said. “She had a brown shirt on.”

Seconds after carrying the woman to safety, the white Prius was swept downstream, where it came to rest upside down against a concrete culvert, partially submerged in water.

The husband and wife showed their appreciation for the airmen’s efforts with plenty of hugs and kind words, but Fitzgerald and Dixon don’t think all of the fanfare was necessary.

“If we weren’t there, I’m sure anybody would’ve done the same thing,” Fitzgerald said.

Dixon, whose car was third in a line of vehicles held up by the flooding, believes he would’ve missed the incident had he left work any earlier as he would’ve been able to make it past the watery roads.

Although the airmen believe that helping others is a natural human instinct, they do give a little bit of credit to their military background.

“I still have that basic training aspect in me,” said Fitzgerald, who has only been in the Air Force for nine months. “In basic training, you always have to have a wingman. [The woman] didn’t have one, so we had to get her a wingman.”

Their military background also helped them think fast and team up with other travelers to keep some peace and safety on the freeway as they waited for law enforcement to arrive.

Dixon and Fitzgerald were unaware that their rescue efforts had been caught on camera in a video that would go viral over the next few days. It wasn’t until the next morning that a friend of Dixon’s pointed out that the man in a viral video resembled him.

“What we did wasn’t really on the grandeur scale,” Dixon said. “I mean, I looked at the video and thought, ‘What did we just do?’ But living it, it didn’t seem that bad.”

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