TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A KC-135 Stratotanker crew chief with the 507th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron here saved the life of an eight year old boy who was trapped in a flooded drainage ditch May 29, 2019, in Prague, Oklahoma.
Master Sgt. Eric Whitesel, a 32-year veteran of the Air Force, along with Torren Jackson’s uncle, Dakota Fite, used quick thinking to pull the boy out of the flooded culvert following record-setting rainfall in the state.
Jackson’s grandmother, Carolyn Fite, expressed her gratitude toward Whitesel.
“We hope that Mr. Whitesel understands how truly grateful we are for the heroic acts he took to save my grandson’s life,” said Fite. “Our family is blessed to have a guardian angel among us.”
When Whitesel arrived home that day, he said the weather was changing drastically, and a heavy thunderstorm hit. After the storm passed, his house lost power and he said he was determined to talk to the city manager about it; so he set out to find him. As he drove through town, he came upon two people in the street and saw the front of a bicycle sticking out of a culvert.
While riding his bike, Jackson was swept from the road and became trapped in the culvert, according to reports. He held on to his bicycle and managed to maintain his breathing despite the amount of water flowing through the pipe. Torren’s uncle, Dakota Fite, was on the scene and his brother, Teggan Jackson, had already run for help before Whitesel arrived.
“He’s the real hero,” Whitesel said. “He ran to the nearest house to call 911, and then ran to his grandmother’s house 3 or 4 blocks away.”
Whitesel and Fite quickly discussed how to save the boy, knowing time was of the essence.
“I told him there was no time to waste,” Whitesel said. “If we don’t take action, this boy is going to drown.”
Whitesel knew that they had to divert the water somewhere in order to free the boy.
“We got down into the ditch to try and slow the water going down into that culvert,” Whitesel said. “It was about two and half feet of water.”
Fite entered the ditch, sat down and used his back and legs to divert the water. Whitesel pulled on the bike’s handles and Fite pulled on the wheels, eventually freeing the boy, who was holding on to the bike’s rear wheel.
First responders arrived during the rescue, and escorted Jackson to the hospital via ambulance, where he was treated and released with minor injuries.
Whitesel, a volunteer fire fighter for 22 years, has saved countless lives since he began volunteering in his small hometown of Saltsburg, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather also served.
At the age of 12, he was able to take classes and was restricted to the fire station. As he got older, he would help assist the firefighters by dragging fire hoses and cleaning up accident scenes. At the age of 18, he was allowed to perform all the functions of the fire department.
Over the years, Whitesel rescued numerous citizens from structure fires, vehicle accidents and water-related accidents.
Whitesel said he enjoys his job and serves in the Air Force Reserve because he knows he is an asset to the team and wants to make sure his unit’s aircraft are safe for flight.
“I know that I am still a viable asset, even though I’m an old guy,” Whitesel said. “I like being able to give my aircrew a safe airplane and know that they’ll come back with it.”
Master Sgt. John Way, 507th AMXS crew chief flight chief, has worked with Whitesel for 13 years and said he isn’t surprised that Whitesel maintained his calm while saving Jackson from the flooded ditch.
“He’s a natural,” Way said. “He knew what to do. He always makes sense of any situation.”