By Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte, 18th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published October 12, 2021
From left to right, U.S. Air Force 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron members Capt. Andrew Jimenez, 2nd flight nurse, Senior Airman Joshua Egler, 3rd aeromedical evacuation technician, Capt. Geryn Lee Paguio, medical crew director, Senior Airman Deanna Adkins, 2nd aeromedical evacuation technician, and Staff Sgt. Elliot Sotnek, charge medical technician, pose for a photo at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 4, 2021. These five 18th AES members answered the call for medical assistance and provided care to an ill Japanese passenger on their flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)
From left to right, U.S. Air Force 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron members Capt. Andrew Jimenez, 2nd flight nurse, Senior Airman Joshua Egler, 3rd aeromedical evacuation technician, Capt. Geryn Lee Paguio, medical crew director, Senior Airman Deanna Adkins, 2nd aeromedical evacuation technician, and Staff Sgt. Elliot Sotnek, charge medical technician, pose for a photo at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Oct. 4, 2021. During a medical emergency onboard their commercial flight, these 18th AES members assisted by administering oxygen, recording vital signs and keeping the flight attendants updated on the passenger’s condition. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)
It’s hard to predict how one would react in a crisis, but when an emergency took place on flight GK304, the Airmen onboard didn’t hesitate to answer the call for help.
An hour into their flight on Sept. 10, 2021, a group of five 18th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron members traveling from Okinawa to Tokyo responded to an overhead call for medical assistance and provided aid to a Japanese passenger that 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, simply responding, “It’s a nice feeling but it’s what all of us medics do. That’s why I became a medic, I wanted to help people and it’s the reason I put this uniform on.”