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‘We Need More People Like Him in the World’: Off-Duty Firefighter Rescues 2 From Fiery Plane Crash on 405 Freeway

Orange County officials are praising one brave firefighter after he rescued two people trapped inside a small plane that crashed on the 405 Freeway near John Wayne Airport on Friday.

John Meffert is shown in an image from a press conference on June 30, 2017. (Credit: KTLA)

Capt. John Meffert, a firefighter for 17 years in Avalon on Catalina Island, was off-duty and driving to his home in Rancho Cucamonga when the twin-engine Cessna 310 crashed on the southbound 405 around 9:35 a.m.

"I was on the phone with my dad and I told him, 'There's a plane really low. I think this plane is going to hit me,'" Meffert said at a mid-afternoon news conference. "The wing came across the front of my hood, and after that, that's when the plane crashed."

He jumped out of his car and initially thought the occupants must be dead. Then, he saw a woman's head pop out of the plane.

"I wasn't thinking about my own safety," said Meffert. "That's probably due to the wife that was a passenger. I saw her face and head pop up out of the passenger side. If she could be there, I thought I could be there."

Meffert immediately jumped into action and removed the victims, a man and woman in their late 50s to early 60s, from the fiery wreckage,  according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

He placed the pair off to the side of the freeway, on the median, until paramedics arrived. The victims were transported to a local hospital with major injuries.

The wreckage of a small plane sits on the southbound 405 Freeway after a crash just short of the John Wayne Airport runway. (Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

OCFA Capt. Larry Kurtz said in an early afternoon news briefing that it’s difficult to say what would have happened had Meffert not been there to help the pair.

"Typically when we have these type of situations bystanders do step in to aid," Kurtz said. "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." 

At least three or four civilians grabbed fire extinguishers and attempted to help put out the flames, according to Meffert.

"A lot of people were ready to help. I just happened to be in a position that maybe I was the first one there," said Meffert. "I wasn't looking for any fame. Just, with the fire service, we're always here just to help people."

Kurtz, who briefly spoke to Meffert at the scene, added that the firefighter seemed to be a heroic and kind-hearted man.

"He seems very humble, very selfless. We certainly need more people like him in the world," said Kurtz. "He was very calm and very relaxed. Obviously he's a professional and he deals with emergency situations all the time. From what other firefighters report on the scene, he functioned very well during this."

Meffert was said after going home, he was headed to a weekend getaway in Palm Springs. He made sure to call his fiancée after the crash and let her know he was going to be late.

"I should have been home by the time I called her," said Meffert. "I called her and said, 'Going to be a little late; just got hit by a plane.'"

The couple will head to Palm Springs Friday evening.