Heroic US airmen who pulled casualties from burning wreckage of F-16 are honoured in ceremony at RAF Lakenheath
- Credit: Archant
A group of heroic airmen from RAF Lakenheath have been honoured by the Spanish and French governments for putting their own lives at risk to help others after a fatal crash in January.
The medals are a rare honour, with lifesaving maintenance engineer Greggory Swarz the first enlisted man to receive France’s highest honour for foreign personnel in more than 40 years.
The 48th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron member at the US Air Force base pulled three french aircrew from the burning wreckage of a Greek F-16, which crashed at Albacete Air Base, in Los Llanos, Spain, on January 26, killing 11 and injuring 21.
Staff Sergeants Swarz and Eli Gordon, Senior Airmen Matthew Jeffers and Nevin Wolsleben, all from the 48th squadron, were among six US Air Force servicemen given the Spanish Cross of Aeronautical Merit.
The medal is awarded to individuals for acts of service that prevent injury or death to others. The four Lakenheath men ran towards the crash and helped saved the lives of their NATO colleagues.
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The medals were presented by the Spanish Minister of Defence, Pedro Morenes. He said: “Those actions that many of you conducted on that unfortunate day are clear evidence of your great professionalism and a reason for your country to feel proud of you.
“I sincerely wish to thank you and recognize your dedication and fulfilment of your duties.”
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Staff Sgt Swarz, electrical environmental systems specialist, was one of the first of four Lakenheath airmen to run towards the wreckage. He single-handedly dragged three men from the flames, saving one man from bleeding to death by using his belt as a tourniquet.
“I don’t think I did more than I had to do,” he said. “I think I did what should have been done. But I’m very happy that they’re alive and I’m glad I was able to make a difference.”
After the awards ceremony in Spain on June 18, a memorial service was held to honour the 11 fallen comrades, where a memorial statue with a plaque was unveiled.
The same men were also honoured by the French government a few days before, at a ceremony in France. Staff Sgt Swarz was given the Legion d’Honneur medal for his “heroic” efforts.
The French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Staff Sgt Swarz had showed “extraordinary courage” by “throwing himself to the flames” to save others.