Airman Receives Medal for Saving Plane Crash Victim’s Life
Two years ago Jacob Gibson rescued Rachel Zientek
ANCHORAGE - It has been more than two years since a small plane crashed in Fairview, killing a 4-year-old boy and injuring four others. One of the survivors is now 18, thanks to the unselfish acts of an airman.
Staff Sergeant Jacob Gibson received an airman's medal from the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) commander for his act of heroism. But he says that wasn't even the highlight of his day. He says it was more rewarding getting to see Rachel Zientek alive and well just two years after she was stuck inside a plane that was engulfed in flames.
For Rachel Zientek, the memories of June 1, 2010 are still vivid. A nightmare turned reality. She and four other people were in a Cessna 206 when it crashed and burned on Ingra Street.
"I just felt like we went up and then we went right down, I don't remember what it felt like; am I going to die or anything," said Rachel back in July 21, 2010, when she was recovering in a hospital.
"We ran out, got fire extinguishers for the police officers because the fire department wasn't here yet, and a bunch of people were pulling people out and it was just a mess," said plane crash hero Tom Sullivan back on June 1, 2010. Ordinary citizens became first responders, trying to free those stuck inside of the fiery wreckage. One of them was Staff Sergeant Jacob Gibson. He had just left JBER and was trying to beat traffic that night.
It’s a day and a place Gibson will never forget. Turns out, Gibson is a former rescue volunteer. He happened to be in the right place at the right time, but just 4 days before the plane crash, he said he lost a guy while performing CPR. Still, Gibson didn't hesitate to spring into action. “The first thing I looked for [was] there someone else that knows more than me that's there, and then if not I need to get in,” said Gibson, who crawled into the plane which was filling up with smoke and flames.
He successfully removed two of the injured victims including Rachel, whose seat belt had her trapped. Gibson says it was a second chance, a redemption. “It was, I wouldn't say a gift, it brought me back from a real bad place,” said Gibson. It’s a decision Rachel is happy he made. “I feel good, I’m happy to be here with Jacob Gibson,” said Zientek. “I can't thank him enough for what he did.” Two years later, she's still dealing with the aftermath. “I have to go to a burn doctor and just go to [physical therapy] pretty much everyday.”
She's determined to live her life to the fullest. “I just can't believe how far I’ve come and all that Jacob's done,” said Zientek.
The Houston native made the trek back to Alaska to say thank you and stand by as Gibson got the airman's medal award for putting others above himself. “He's amazing, he's definitely someone I would look up too,” said Zientek.
For Gibson, the medal is not as rewarding as seeing Rachel and her family. “Getting to see her after that, that's completed me, that was what made my life is actually getting to see her, seeing that was walking again when the doctors told her she wouldn't – that's made everything to me,” said Gibson.
Rachel has made great strides since the 2010 plane crash. She said she's enrolling in college in the fall where she wants to pursue a degree in physical therapy to help people. Part of supporting them, she says, will be telling them what she has gone through and how she never gave up.