U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Returning from a weekend ski trip in Breckenridge, Colorado, five Air Force Academy cadets witnessed the vehicle in front of them fishtail, turn perpendicular to the road and slide off the ridge.
Fearing the passengers were injured, Cadets 3rd Class Connor Settle, Joseph Canoy, Karl Boerwinkle, Joel Krause and Antonino Del Rossa decided to act. Krause remained with the car and dialed 911 while the other four grabbed their jackets and moved down the hill to locate the vehicle.
“It was instinctual. We knew they needed someone to help, and there was no one else on the road, so we took the responsibility into our own hands,” Del Rossa said.
The cadets could hear the trapped driver honking his horn as they descended. The vehicle had plummeted more than 100 feet and landed upside down in the wood line and the rear end of the vehicle was collapsed.
“We weren’t really scared going down, but when we saw the car, I was pretty nervous about their safety,” Canoy said.
The cadets helped the driver and passenger get free. The driver kept yelling that his daughter was trapped in the back.
Unable to pry the door open, Settle smashed the window to attempt to locate and free her. The daughter was eventually able to crawl forward and escape through the same door as her parents.
“The Academy has exposed us to stressful situations, like basic training, and I think that’s why none of us were panicked,” Boerwinkle said.
Krause similarly acknowledged exposure to first aid and medevac procedures helped them remain calm throughout the accident response.
The cadets lent their coats to the family and stayed with them until the paramedics arrived. The cadets were relieved to learn the family escaped with what appeared to be minor injuries.
“Once we got back in the car, I said, ‘I’m really proud of us, that there was no hesitation,’ and I was really happy that as a group of friends were able to work together like that,” Canoy said.
Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin, the Academy’s commandant of cadets, recognized the cadets for their actions in front of the entire Cadet Wing.
“Their actions speak to the caliber of the cadets we have here at the Academy, and how the training they receive here can be just as applicable in the local community as in combat zones,” she said.