It’s hard to predict how one would react in a crisis, but when a medical emergency took place onboard commercial flight GK304, Sept. 10, the five Airmen onboard the plane didn’t hesitate to answer the call for help.
An hour into the flight, the group of 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron members responded to an overhead message calling for medical assistance where they then provided aid to a Japanese passenger, which potentially saved his life.
“I saw the flight attendants grabbing an oxygen bottle and wondered what was going on then looked back to see this guy laying down … He was on oxygen and didn’t look very good,” said Senior Airman Joshua Egler, 18th AES, 3rd aeromedical evacuation technician. “The first announcement went off overhead and I jumped out of my seat. The whole crew went back there: Paguio, Jimenez, Sotnek, Adkins and myself. We train for this kind of scenario all the time.”
Assisting the passenger came with its own unique set of challenges; they were working without their medical equipment and they needed a translator. It was a real-life test of their training.
The equipment they usually train with is essentially a small hospital setup, said Staff Sgt. Elliot Sotnek, 18th AES charge medical technician. The equipment available on the flight was essentially a bag full of anything and everything that might be needed.
Despite the challenges, the crew quickly stepped into the roles needed to take care of the passenger, and with a flight attendant translating, they got to work.
While Egler took the passenger’s vital signs and administered oxygen, Sotnek documented the medical steps taken to pass onto the medical provider on the ground. Simultaneously, other members of the team worked to uncover the cause of his physical distress and communicate his condition to flight attendants.
“Because there were a lot of people around him, he was super nervous,” Egler said. “I gave him one of my patches, and I think it helped calm him down.”
After asking the right questions, the crew finally discovered what might be the problem.
“Turns out, he had gone scuba diving the day before and it was possible decompression sickness,” Sotnek said.
Knowing that decompression sickness can be fatal if not treated quickly, the team informed the flight attendant, who coordinated with the pilot to divert the plane to the nearest airport with the appropriate medical facilities nearby.
Within 40 minutes, the plane was on the ground and the passenger was transported by local emergency medical services.
When asked how it felt to have potentially saved a life, Egler brushed off the praise.
“It’s a nice feeling, but it’s what all of us medics do,” Egler said. “That’s why I became a medic. I wanted to help people, and it’s the reason I put this uniform on.”