AIRMEN SURVIVE MOTORCYCLE CRASH THANKS TO PROTECTIVE GEAR, WINGMEN
By Senior Airman Kenneth W. Norman
97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — "When I woke up in the ambulance, the paramedic took my helmet, shoved it in my face and said, 'If you hadn't been wearing this, we would be scraping your brains up off the pavement.' "
Photo of Maj. Adam Travis
As the reality of those words sunk in, Maj. Adam Travis, 97th Air Mobility Wing flight safety officer at Altus Air Force Base, realized that fateful ride on Jan. 15, 2012, easily could have been his last. As a matter of fact, across the Air Force from October through February 2012, there had been 228 motorcycle mishaps, 17 of which were fatalities or led to total disability. Had Travis and another Altus Airmen not worn the proper personal protective equipment, they likely would have been numbers 18 and 19 on the victim list.
Travis and Master Sgt. Lee Adkins, Headquarters Air Mobility Command KC-135 Air Training Squadron Quality Assurance manager, were riding their motorcycles in a group of five riders nearly three miles south of the city of Altus. That's when Adkins, who was driving at 70 mph, collided with a tumbleweed and was thrown from his bike, which, in turn, caused Travis to crash.
"I saw a huge tumbleweed out of the corner of my eye in the median," Adkins said. "I thought we were going to pass it because we were going 70 miles an hour. … That is the last thing I remember."
As soon as the group's lead rider passed the tumbleweed, it rolled out into the road in front of Adkins.
"It looked like it hit his front wheel and exploded," said Staff Sgt. Michael Fagan, 54th Air Refueling Squadron formal training unit instructor and the last rider in the group. "(Adkins) goes down and then by reaction Travis locked up his brakes and went down."
Adkins and Travis had been riding in the second and third positions of the group.
"The last thing I remember seeing was this giant tumbleweed that was the size of a kitchen table come rolling out on the road as Leroy was driving through it," Travis said. "I woke up in the ambulance for about 30 seconds, and then I woke up in the hospital a couple hours later. That is about all I really remember of it.
"We were doing the speed limit. We were all far enough apart from each other. … We just had an unfortunate situation pop up."
Both riders suffered injuries.
"I was wearing jeans, riding boots, leather jacket, gloves, smash resistant glasses and a helmet," Adkins said. "I was wearing a helmet and still fractured my skull. I had a brain bleed, shattered my forearm — had to have surgery on that, two plates, 12 screws — four broken ribs, punctured lungs, lacerated liver, torn medial collateral ligament, huge abrasion on the right side, which has had three surgeries, and a lot of ligament damage."
Adkins found out after the accident that emergency responders thought they might find him dead on arrival.
"If it wasn't for the (personal protective) gear, I wouldn't be talking to you right now," Adkins said.
Travis was wearing a full-face helmet made of carbon fiber. At some point during the accident he flipped over and started sliding on his face. The helmet still has pieces of tumbleweed embedded into it.
"My jacket, gloves, pants, boots and helmet — all of it got destroyed," Travis said. "And the only thing I have to show for it is a tiny little scar on my thumb and backside from road rash. (My gear) absolutely kept me from dying."
Personal protective equipment wasn't the only factor that saved Travis and Adkins. Staff Sgt. Lamar Daniel, 97th Training Squadron KC-135 Formal Training Unit evaluator boom operator; Christopher Massey, Northrop Grumman site support for the Graduated Training Integrated Management System, and Fagan, were the other members of the riding group, and they immediately controlled the scene after the crash.
Once Adkins and Travis stopped rolling down the road, the other three riders ensured they did not move and blocked the road off.
"Either of us could have had a spinal injury; so if they had allowed us to get up or let someone else move us, it could have been bad," Travis said.
"I know that I am here today because of those guys," Adkins said. "PPE and the wingman concept really did come into play."
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With his right arm and his helmet still showing the scars of his crash, Master Sgt. Lee Adkins, of Altus AFB, Okla., credits his protective gear, wingmen and emergency services for saving his life after crashing his motorcycle in January 2012. He had to have surgery on his forearm, which needed two plates and 12 screws to fix. He also suffered brain bleed, four broken ribs, punctured lungs and a lacerated liver, to name a few of his worst injuries.