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Whiteman Airman performs life-saving aid on airline flight

Senior Airman Caleb Smith, a munitions systems crew chief assigned to the 509th Munitions Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, poses for a photo during the Civilian Marksmanship Program National Matches on July 30, 2019, at Camp Perry, Ohio. Senior Airman Caleb Smith recently performed life-saving first aid on a choking passenger while on an American Airlines flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Thomas Barley)

Senior Airman Caleb Smith, a munitions systems crew chief assigned to the 509th Munitions Squadron at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, poses for a photo during the Civilian Marksmanship Program National Matches on July 30, 2019, at Camp Perry, Ohio. Senior Airman Caleb Smith recently performed life-saving first aid on a choking passenger while on an American Airlines flight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Thomas Barley)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --

Travelling from Pennsylvania to Ohio, Oct. 3, 2019, on an airline flight, Senior Airman Caleb Smith, a 509th Munitions Squadron munition systems technician assigned to Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, encountered extreme turbulence.

“Halfway through my flight there were strange sounds and commotion about five seats behind me,” said Smith.

When Smith turned around he immediately noticed an elderly man in distress. The man gestured to his throat and chest—he was choking. Smith, with the assistance of a retired air marshal, helped the man out of his seat.

Smith instructed the marshal, already positioned behind the elderly man, to perform the Heimlich Maneuver, but it was unsuccessful. Smith switched places with the marshal and after three attempts, managed to clear the lodged object.

“I coached the man back to a normal breathing pace using breath control tactics,” recalled Smith. “He choked for so long and so violently he momentarily forgot how to breathe.”

As Smith and the marshal helped the man back to his seat, the flight attendants provided him with water and tended to him for the remainder of the flight. 

“Once I was sure the man could breathe fine, I returned to my seat for a smooth flight from there on out,” said Smith.

Smith is no stranger to operating in an environment where quick thinking and situational awareness can mean the difference between life and death.

During their basic training course, Airmen receive a full day of hands-on self-aid buddy care and cardiopulmonary resuscitation schooling. They then apply the new skillset in a series of exercises, solidifying their knowledge and practice. It is vital for all Airmen across the Air Force to maintain readiness and safety standards. Air Force standards mandate an annual refresher course for their personnel. 

Trained with SABC and CPR, Smith acted without hesitation.

“My reaction was that ‘a man was in a life threatening situation and needed immediate help,’” said Smith. “I assessed the situation and determined the best course of action. Luckily, we reacted fast enough; the gentleman recovered with zero complications. I have a higher appreciation for SABC and CPR training that we receive.”