Hometown Heroes: Pilot saves bicyclist’s life

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The American Red Cross is honoring some Hometown Heroes: businesses and individuals who exemplify courage, kindness, and unselfish character.

Shawn McFarland served 10 years in the United States Army flying Black Hawk helicopters, including a tour in Baghdad during operation Iraqi Freedom One. Now, he flies rescue helicopters, and his quick thinking is being recognized for saving an athlete’s life.

In August 2015, mountain biker Jim Heidelberg took a nearly fatal fall on Almagre Mountain, causing him to sever his femoral artery and rapidly lose consciousness.

“Believe it or not, from 300 feet up, saw the blood on the trail from where he was laying beside his mountain bike and then we really knew this was serious,” said McFarland.

McFarland and two medics were deployed that day in an attempt to save the man’s life. The former Army pilot recalls the air being hot and thin, posing a tough challenge to safely land.

“At 12,000 feet, that altitude is really like landing at 15,000 feet, it’s density altitude,” said McFarland. “It’s a challenging environment. It was gusty.”

McFarland eventually landed, but with time running out and no additional help in sight, he made an instinctive decision critical to Heidelberg’s survival.

“Remembered there was a vehicle sitting up at the gate that keeps cars from going up to the summit,” said McFarland. “So I hiked up to the truck, the hood was still warm, the windows were down and the keys were still in it.”

What would have been at least 30 minutes to carry the cyclist back to the helicopter turned into 10 with help from the “borrowed” car.

“This one was unusual in that I played a direct role helping save him because typically I stay with the aircraft,” said McFarland.

Now being recognized as a Hometown Hero, McFarland says this is just a part of the job.

“Extremely humbling,” he said. “It’s hard to accept recognition for that, for me personally, it’s just my job.”

McFarland said he’s looking forward to being honored Thursday night at the Antlers Hotel along with the other Hometown Heroes.

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