When A Plane Crashed On An Interstate, A Stranger Ran Toward The Blaze

“That speaks to the human spirit of people helping others out.”

When Frank Pisano's twin-engine Cessna crashed on Interstate 405 in Orange County, Calif., it miraculously only hit one car, even though the interstate was busy on that Friday before the Fourth of July. Even more miraculously, that car belonged to John Meffert, captain of the Avalon Fire Department, and Meffert and other motorists ran toward the fiery wreckage and risked life and limb to save Pisano and his wife.


The right engine of Pisano's plane sputtered out after it left John Wayne International Airport, and Pisano called in a mayday as he lost altitude. Moments later, the plane bounced off the 405 median, grazed the front of Meffert's SUV, and crashed to the roadway, bursting into flames

According to The Orange County Register, Pisano later told church congregants that grazing Meffert's car turned his plane left, which softened the impact. He also said the plane's left propellor would have killed Meffert if the SUV had been traveling just a little faster.

After witnessing the crash, Meffert knew the plane could explode at any moment, but his first concern was for the victims. "I felt like I needed to go see if everyone was okay," he told CNN. "It wasn't until I saw the passenger … Her head pops up on the passenger side just enough that I'm like, 'There's somebody alive.' So I ran even faster."

Meffert has extensive experience as a first responder. Before his firefighting career, he served seven years in the United States Navy, working in the intensive care unit on the hospital ship Mercy during Desert Storm and in acute care and emergency medicine in San Diego.

As Meffert approached the wreckage, he found the passenger, Janan Pisano, pulling herself out of the plane and trying to drag her husband out, as well. Meffert helped her to safety and then doubled back to get Frank. Other good Samaritans joined in the rescue efforts. As captured in a cell phone video at the scene, one man took off his shirt to bandage Janan's head wound. "Both of them were pretty bloody," Meffert recalled to CNN. "I was really amazed that there weren't, like, more injuries to them."

As it turned out, Frank had broken six bones in his back and Janan had broken five. But they're on the mend now … and grateful to be alive. "He saved my life and my wife's life because I know she would have stayed trying to help me," Frank told CNN. "John was a hero. He went into a burning plane to save us."

"Typically when we have [this] type of situation, bystanders do step in to aid," Orange County Fire Authority Captain Larry Kurtz told reporters, per KTLA-TV. "That speaks to the human spirit of people helping others out. The fact that this individual's training kicked in is so much better. It was very fortuitous that he happened to be on the southbound 405 at the exact same time."

For his part, Meffert is grateful he was in the right place at the right time, along with other heroic motorists. "I play all the 'what ifs' — going slower, going faster — it could have been a different turnout," he told CNN, his voice breaking. "We just had a lot of angels. So I feel very blessed that I was safe and able to render care to them."


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