Without thinking twice, six Collier County Sheriff’s Office deputies plunged into a cold and murky canal, racing in the dark to find passengers of a plane that crashed in a wooded area in East Naples.
The deputies located the injured passengers in a fuel-contaminated zone and administered first aid before moving them to safety.
It was that kind of exceptional ingenuity and perseverance that earned Deputy Alan Flanagan Jr. and Cpls. Brian Williams, Rommel Ariza, Blake Rising, Michael Nelson and Michael Chapman a CCSO Distinguished Service Medal at a ceremony Monday.
Sheriff Kevin J. Rambosk presented the deputies with the award, thanking each for their service.
The deputies’ actions were instrumental in the rescue of four people after their small airplane crashed into the woods north of the runway at Wing South Airpark on Nov. 14, 2008
CCSO reports gave this account of the rescue:
The deputies responded to a report of a possible airplane crash with injuries a quarter of a mile north of the runway at Wing South around 6:30 p.m.
When the deputies arrived at the end of the runway, their attempt to reach the crash site was blocked by a canal.
They removed their duty belts and grabbed two portable radios, a first aid kit and an automated external defibrillator (AED). Then they entered the cold and dark water in the canal without hesitation or concern about the possibility of snakes and alligators.
After crossing the canal and then running a quarter of a mile, the deputies located the crash site.
Three people were standing near the badly damaged aircraft, bleeding from the face and arms and one person was still inside, complaining of back pain.
A strong odor of jet fuel was coming from the downed plane.
Deputies began triage, with Cpl. Ariza applying a splint to one of the passengers, a 57-year-old man, who suffered a broken arm.
With EMS unable to reach the site, deputies carried the man and another passenger who sustained serious injuries back through the canal, where a medical helicopter was waiting to transport them to the hospital.
Deputies escorted the other two passengers to the other side of the wooded area to waiting ambulances.