A California Highway Patrol officer was hit by a helicopter's turning blades during a rescue and was saved by a group of "unlikely heroes," including the injured hiker he had been sent to rescue.
Officer Tony Stanley, 40, is "lucky to be alive" after suffering a life-threatening injury while performing a rescue on Thursday, according to the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
Stanley and a CHP pilot, Brian Henderson, were sent to a remote, rugged area of Shasta Trinity Forest near Redding, Calif., to transport an injured hiker who had broken his leg and hurt his ankle. The injured hiker was Dr. Jeremy Kilburn, who had been hiking with his friend Dan Grasso.
When Stanley and Henderson landed on the scene, Stanley was hit by the helicopter's main rotor blades as he climbed out.
"It was just awful," Grasso told ABC News' San Francisco affiliate KGO-TV. "It was the sound of the guy's skull getting fractured off the edge of the rotor blade…The rotor blade couldn't have hit a rock or anything so I knew it had to hit him."
"A team of unlikely heroes then quickly worked together to save the severely injured officer's life," the CHP said in a statement.
Kilburn, the injured hiker, and Grasso joined Henderson in the rescue, along with Elizabeth Fitch and Bryce Harbert, who had been hiking with a youth group when they came across Kilburn.
The team of five quickly worked together to take care of Stanley and move the injured Kilburn closer so he could help him, since Dr. Kilburn is a U.S. Air Force critical pulmonologist.
"The California Highway Patrol is extremely grateful for the swift actions of these heroes. Thanks to the assistance they provided, Tony is alive today," CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said in a statement. "I cannot even imagine the pain Dr. Kilburn was in, unable to walk, when he rolled down the hill to the location of our injured officer. Without regard to his own injuries and pain, Dr. Kilburn performed critical life-saving steps, ultimately saving the life of our officer."
Kilburn helped establish an airway so that Stanley could breathe and gave him oxygen.
The group loaded Stanley into the helicopter and throughout the 41-mile flight to the hospital, Fitch "acted as a flight nurse," holding IV bags and controlling the bleeding by applying pressure.
"At one point, he really started to wake up and was trying to grab his skull and all this other kind of stuff and I was talking to him and said, 'You know, you're hurt. You're going to be okay, just let us take care of you,'" Kilburn told KGO-TV. "He gave me a thumbs up at one point."
"Dr. Kilburn fought through his own pain to save the life of our officer, highlighting the dedication of our military that put their life on the line every day for our country. Dr. Kilburn's actions were clearly above and beyond the call of duty," added Commissioner Farrow. "These individuals are not only heroes, they are guardian angels."
Kilburn said he was only doing his duty.
"I've been in the military for 16 years and this is what one is supposed to do," he told KGO-TV.
CHP Lt. Scott Fredrick said that Stanley remains in the hospital today and privacy requirements do not allow him to disclose Stanley's current condition or the extent of his injuries.