A U.S. Air Force Academy cadet talked a suicidal man off a Colorado overpass and located a downed aircraft in California in two unrelated events within a 72-hour time span.
Cadet 3rd Class Jack Bell, a licensed pilot, was flying a Cirrus SR-22 aircraft with his brother, sister and a fellow cadet toward Monterey, California, Feb. 18 when air traffic control notified him that a plane in his area had fallen off radar and gone radio silent.
The last transmission from the plane’s pilot was that it had an engine failure, according to an Air Force Academy press release.
After receiving the last known coordinates of the lost plane, Bell flew over the area.
“Up in the air, everyone is a fellow airman,” Bell said in the release. “So it wasn’t even a second thought for me. ... I had to find a small hole in the clouds that I could punch through and do a little tactical spiral descent to get down below the cloud layer and head toward the location we were given.”
After flying to the area, Bell managed to locate the plane in a California coastal mountain range. His passengers were able to peer out their windows while Bell flew circles around the downed aircraft. The pilot had survived, and his wings and fuselage appeared intact.
Bell radioed those observations back to the air traffic control tower, helping first responders find the crash site.
Not more than 72 hours later, on Feb. 21, Bell was driving along a Colorado interstate when he noticed a man standing along the ledge of an overpass.
“That was something that obviously looked out of place, so I pulled over,” he said. “I could tell this guy wasn’t doing okay, and something wasn’t right. I was just shocked by how many people drove by like nothing was wrong.”
Bell called 911 and asked for assistance before moving toward the man and making small talk with him.
“I asked him, what do you plan on doing up here?” Bell said. “That’s when he kind of snapped out of it and realized what he was doing and got very emotional. He mentioned something about God, and I saw that as an opportunity to use faith to connect with him.”
Bell continued that talk with the man for 15 minutes before convincing him to step down from the ledge.
“I finally said, ‘How about we walk off this bridge together,’ and he agreed,” Bell said.
Academy security forces and firefighters arrived on the scene while Bell walked with the man up the street.
“He had a wife and two kids,” Bell said. “He hugged me afterward and told me he was just waiting for a semi-truck to come down the freeway before I started talking to him. That’s what he went there to do, and he was ready to act upon those intentions. I am so grateful that he was able to return safely to his family and get the help he needed.”
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.