(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) — It was a busy week for one U.S. Air Force Academy cadet who not only saved an apparently suicidal man’s life but also helped locate a downed plane — all in the span of 72 hours.
Cadet 3rd Class Jack Bell of Cadet Squadron 29 was driving down an interstate in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Feb. 21 when he said he noticed a man standing on the ledge of an overpass.
“That was something that obviously looked out of place, so I pulled over,” Bell told the U.S. Air Force Academy. “I could tell this guy wasn’t doing OK and something wasn’t right. I was just shocked by how many people drove by like nothing was wrong.”
He called 911 before cautiously moving toward the man on foot and engaging him in conversation.
“I started with making small talk trying to get him off the ledge,” Bell said. “He kept saying, ‘No, no, I’m fine.’ He clearly wasn’t.”
After Bell asked the man what he was doing on the overpass, he said the man “kind of snapped out it and realized what he was doing and got very emotional.”
“He mentioned something about God, and I saw that as an opportunity to use faith to connect with him,” Bell said.
After 15 minutes of conversation, Bell had convinced the man to step down from the ledge, asking him, “How about we walk off this bridge together?”
“He had a wife and two kids,” Bell said. “He hugged me afterward and told me he was just waiting for a semi-truck to come down the freeway before I started talking to him. That’s what he went there to do, and he was ready to act upon those intentions. I am so grateful that he was able to return safely to his family and get the help he needed.” DID POLICE EVER COME?
But that wasn’t Bell’s only good deed for the week. Seventy-two hours earlier, Bell, who is a licensed pilot, was flying an SR-22 aircraft with his brother, sister and fellow Cadet 3rd Class Austin Kintz toward Monterey, California.
Suddenly, air traffic control told Bell over the radio that a plane in his area had fallen off their radar. The last transmission was that the plane was having engine failure.
Air traffic control gave Bell the last known coordinates of the missing plane so he could fly over the area.
“Up in the air, everyone is a fellow airman,” Bell said. “Airman to airman, you help each other out when in need. It’s what we do in the military as a whole, we answer the call whenever and however it comes. So it wasn’t even a second thought for me.”
He eventually located the aircraft on a California coastal mountain range, he said.
While circling the area, Bell’s passengers looked out the window and reported the crash site over the radio. The plane’s wings and fuselage were intact, and the pilot miraculously alive.
First responders were able to quickly find the crash site and expedite rescue efforts.
“I know someone else would have done the same for me,” Bell said. “It’s the kind of brotherhood mentality we breed here [at the academy] and in the flying community as a whole.”
Lt Col Allen Herritage, spokesperson for the US Air Force Academy confirmed the validity of the cadet’s accounts of both events.
‘Doing what’s right all the time and having the courage to act when it matters most’
Bell credited his military upbringing and the values instilled within him from a young age for his heroic actions last month.
His father served as a Navy fighter pilot for 20 years and his mother has a background in education, according to the Air Force Academy.
“My parents played a significant role in shaping me into who I am today,” Bell said. “They used to always tell us, ‘If you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and be satisfied with your actions, then you know you did the right thing. That’s what makes character and integrity.’”
“To me, that’s what this whole experience [the academy] has meant as well,” he added. “It’s about learning the core values of service and living honorably all the time. It’s rare when we come across these kinds of situations, but when we do, we have an opportunity to make a difference. Then it’s simply a matter of acting.”
Maj. Jamie Johnson, the air commanding officer of Bell’s squadron, called the cadet “an exceptional testament of how one airman can make life-changing impact on others.”
“To me, it’s about doing what’s right all the time and having the courage to act when it matters most,” Bell said.
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