Right Place, Right Time, Right Training
MORGANTON, N.C. – Within minutes of a single-engine plane crash, North Carolina Army National Guard SGT Charles Roper was pulling the pilot from the burning cockpit.
The Sergeant was on his way to pick his children up from school on Feb. 6 at about 4:30 p.m. when he noticed a plane flying very low, almost at treetop level.
“The plane took a nosedive like it was doing a crazy stunt. It never came back up.”
SGT Roper saw the plane crash, and immediately put his truck into four-wheel drive, driving through ditches and farmland to get to the crash site.
“When I pulled up, I saw the plane, and it was on fire with plane parts in trees, the propeller in the field, and the pilot was in the plane, just lying there,” he said. “It all happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to call 911. I rushed out of my vehicle and ran to the burning plane.”
SGT Roper, a full-time mechanic at the North Carolina National Guard’s Lenoir Field Maintenance Shop # 2 and a 31B Military Police Officer in the 210th Military Police Company, said he yelled at the pilot to get out of the plane, but the pilot was motionless.
“Fire was all around him, and he was strapped in with the same type of seatbelt harness we use in the Guard,” he said. “I reached in and pulled the quick release, then I pulled him out of the plane. All I could think of was it exploding, so I (dragged) him away from the plane. He was moaning and grunting, and I told him to hang on.”
SGT Roper is no stranger to helping rescue people in dangerous situations. He was a Morganton public safety officer for six years and responded to many car wrecks, house fires, and other adrenalin-pumping emergencies.
Others came to assist SGT Roper and helped him pull the pilot farther away from the burning wreckage and on to the back of a pickup truck.
The pilot was safe, but SGT Roper’s assistance was now needed by the first public safety officer to reach the crash site.
“Kim Davis, a Morganton public safety officer, arrived with a fire truck, and asked me to help pull the hose close to the plane while she turned the water on,” said SGT Roper. “I manned the hose and helped get the fire under control. Soon after that, I could hear more EMS pulling up to the scene.”
SGT Roper said that once the firefighters took the hose from him it was the first time he could take a breath and relax. He noticed his arms and jeans were bloody.
“I got with an EMS worker, grabbed a lot of baby wipes, and cleaned off my arms as well as I could,” he said. “I told EMS I was leaving. I didn’t want to stick around. I was just glad I could play the part of a guardian angel.”
SGT Roper got into his vehicle and continued on his way to pick up his children before local news made it to the crash site.
According to local authorities, the pilot, who was taken to a Charlotte hospital, received lacerations to the face and was “bruised and banged up,” but expected to recover fully.
SGT Roper’s training as a member of the National Guard and as a civilian first responder allowed him to act quickly and decisively. His actions are the embodiment of Citizen-Soldiers living and serving in the communities they have sworn to protect.
So, if you have the desire to protect your fellow citizens and your Nation, find out more about joining the Army National Guard. Most Guard members serve part-time, allowing them the flexibility to earn a degree or certification using the Guard’s education benefits. The Guard also trains Soldiers for careers in more than 150 fields. Visit our job board to explore careers and contact a recruiter for more information.
From an original article by LTC Matthew Devivo, North Carolina National Guard, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil in February 2017.