PEACHTREE CITY, Georgia – A late-night drive home from a Civil Air Patrol squadron meeting quickly turned into a rescue scenario Aug. 2, 2018, when two Georgia Wing cadets swam to a rapidly sinking SUV in the middle of a rural pond and extracted the dazed driver.
Cadet 1st Lt. Davis Laughlin and Cadet 2nd Lt. Nathaniel Justin Oakes, members of the Peachtree City Falcon Field Composite Squadron, were headed home when they drove up on a multi-car accident scene about 10:30 p.m. in Coweta County.
Oakes’ mother, 2nd Lt. Jennifer Oakes, was riding with them and dialed 911 as the cadets sprang into action. The two quickly ran to the first car they saw and confirmed everyone inside was OK.
When they heard someone yell that another car had veered toward a nearby field, they crossed a barbed-wire fence and ran down a grassy ridge to a pond. There they spotted a small SUV, detectable only from faint taillights just under the water.
Upon wading into the pond, Oakes said, “We started getting close to the car, and the water started getting deeper and deeper until the point where we had to swim.”
When they reached the car, the cadets tried to extract the man inside.
“We tried to talk to him, but he was very disoriented. We began to yell, ‘Roll down the windows! Roll down the windows!’” Laughlin said.
The man managed to do so, and Laughlin and Oakes worked together to get him out as water rushed into the SUV. After a few anxious moments, they were able to get him out through the open window. They then pulled the man to safety, swimming to the pond’s bank, where paramedics and first responders met them.
The vehicle was completely submerged by the time they got the man to land. He was treated at a local hospital and released.
Laughlin and Oakes “are awesome,” said Coweta County first responder Brett Osting. “They went above and beyond, going into the water in the pitch dark to get this guy out. They don’t even know him; he was a complete stranger.”
“The adrenaline was going through us, but with all our training, we knew to remain calm and control our breathing,” Oakes said.
He and Laughlin credit their actions to the training they received as Civil Air Patrol cadets.
“I’m thankful that everyone involved in Thursday night’s events are all still alive,” Oakes said.
“It was the best outcome for the worst situation. The most important thing is we were able to save a person’s life,” Laughlin said.
“These cadets came upon a very serious accident and their CAP training kicked in,” said Maj. David Serafin, Peachtree City squadron commander. “They used that CAP training to save this man’s life. I am very proud of our young cadets and their heroic, selfless service to our community and to CAP.”
Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force. In this role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 aircraft, performs about 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 80 lives annually.
CAP’s 57,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies.
CAP also plays a leading role in aerospace/STEM education, and its members serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs.