GETTYSBURG, PA— January 14, 2022 — On January 9, 2022, Mark Jenkins, a 70-year-old former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, took off from Whiteman Airport in Pacoima, California, in a Cessna 172. Unfortunately, the small plane lost power and crash-landed on the street, sliding onto railroad tracks.
The crash left Jenkins dazed inside the cockpit. Typically, this wouldn’t have been a major issue. He would have come to his senses before long, and the experienced Air Force fighter pilot would deal with the problem– except for one problem. A train was heading at full speed toward the plane, unable to stop in time. So it was a good thing for Mr. Jenkins that the Pacoima Police Department was not defunded.
“I saw the plane come down,” said Police Sgt. Joseph Cavestany. He was one of the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who responded to the emergency within five minutes of the crash. “It had looked like he was sideways… I requested our communications to stop all rail activity.”
The police officers spoke to the pilot to keep him conscious. Then came the sound of bells and flashing lights, signaling an oncoming train, the responding officers recalled during the press conference.
“We looked, and sure enough, there was a train headed right for us at full speed,” Officer Robert Sherlock, another responding officer, said.
Two Los Angeles Police Department officers pulled the bloodied pilot from the plane and ran from the tracks while carrying Jenkins body to safety. One officer’s bodycam caught the incident on video.
Seconds later, a trained smashed the wrecked plane to smithereens. If the pilot had still been aboard, he assuredly would have been killed. Instead, the video seems to show a piece of the wreckage barely missing hitting the police.
Despite watching the train heading straight at them, unable to stop in time, the Los Angeles Police Department officers did their jobs. They risked their lives and went to the plane and rescued the pilot. Because of the heroism of officers Police Sgt . Cavestany, Police Officer Robert Sherlock, Police Officer Damien Castro, and Officer Christopher Aboyte, the pilot, Mark Jenkins is still alive.
This is one reason that a well-trained police force is needed. How many civilians would have been willing to put their lives on the line like that?
This incident was a dramatic example of heroism within the ranks of police forces across the country. Some police officers’ acts of heroism may not be as movie-worthy as this incident, but they are just as important to the people they help by putting their own lives at risk.
Last year in Millvale, Pennsylvania, Police Officer Joe Spalick was the first officer on a bad house fire scene. Neighbors yelled that three people were trapped inside. He found two people in the backyard, but he ran into the house to find a woman who had run back inside for her purse and medication.
In Arizona, Phoenix Police Officers Joel Kaminsky and Rudy Castillo rescued a driver from a burning car.
In 2020, Lodi Police Officer Erika Urrea saved a man’s life after his wheelchair got stuck on railroad tracks while he was crossing. The train couldn’t stop in time, but Urrea rushed forward, grabbed the man, and pulled him away from the oncoming train.
These are just a few rescues where police endangered their own lives to save another. They didn’t do these things for glory, fame, or social justice. They did them because it was the right thing to do. They did it because they greatly love the people they serve, even though that love only seems to go one way lately.
With so many men and women willing to put their lives on the line every day, the least we can do is make sure they are protected as well as they can be with the proper gear, including bulletproof vests
InVest USA is one charitable organization that donates bulletproof vests to police, including to the police officers who recently rescued pilot Mark Jenkins, as well as to fellow police officer Jackie Ravelo, who donated one of her kidneys to give a young girl a second chance at life.
Finally, we can back our police officers when they are unduly given bad press. It doesn’t mean we have to accept everything the police do as flawless. They are human, after all, but if we are willing to chastise them publicly, we should praise them at least as loudly.
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Jim Rada is an award-winning former reporter who lives in Pennsylvania. He works as a freelance writer with a specialty in history. His articles have appeared in more than 130 national and regional publications.