MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
After a near-fatal crash on a muddy rural road near Los Angeles, a Yuma Marine rescued an unfortunate driver from the wreckage moments before it was completely crushed by a falling power line pole, Feb. 7, 2010.
Staff Sgt. Phonphet Vongsalack, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13 aviation logistics information management support chief, and his friend Juan Lopez were on their way to go fishing at Lake Piru, located in Ventura County, when they spotted the accident.
“I was on my way to work early in the morning,” said Jacquelyne Piche, a 19-year-old native of Piru, Calif., who works with Lake Piru recreation resource management. “The road was really slippery and muddy, and I lost control and slid into the pole. I saw two cars drive up, so I honked the horn, and they both stopped.”
“It looked like the car was completely mangled into the overhead pole,” said Vongsalack, a 35-year-old Dallas native. “The pole was bent over the car at almost a 45-degree angle, and the power lines started sparking and fizzling as we approached.”
While Vongsalack was concerned for the girl, he had to remain aware of his surroundings and keep his own safety in mind, as well.
“A man came to the car and told me I had to get out because the pole was breaking and it wasn’t safe for me,” said Piche. “I was stuck, and he and his friend pulled me out and got me to safety. He was very calm. He knew exactly what to do.”
Fortunately for Piche, she had leaned over to pick up something she dropped on the passenger side moments before the accident. The car impacted the pole head-on on the driver side, which was smashed in by the crash. Piche said that leaning to the other side of the car probably saved her life, though she was also trapped because of it.
However, Vongsalack and his friend were unable to simply pull Piche from the vehicle. Piche was pinned and the rescuers could only enter through the rear window.
After they pulled the girl from the car, they carried her across the road, the power line popped, flailing dangerously around the car and the pole collapsed, crushing what was left of the vehicle. Vongsalack and his friend stayed with Piche until the authorities arrived at the scene.
Vongsalack attributed his calm demeanor and readiness to his Marine Corps training.
“All that military training and experience helped me stay cool and collected and know what to do,” he said. “I just did what any other Marine would do.”
Others say Vongsalack’s actions at the scene of the crash were in keeping with his moral character. According to Marines he’s worked with and recruited, Vongsalack is quick to act selflessly.
“When he told me about it, I wasn’t surprised that he did that,” said Lance Cpl. Marvin Bolanos, MALS-13 flight equipment technician, who was recruited by Vongsalack and has known him for approximately two years. “It makes sense. That’s the kind of person he is. He puts other people first.”
Piche left the accident with a crushed pelvis and various scrapes, but says she’ll make a full recovery in three months and walk unassisted in six weeks.
“I’m very thankful that they were there,” said Piche. “I don’t know what would’ve happened if they hadn’t helped me.”