saving a life

Second Lt. Max Atkinson, 71st Student Squadron pilot in training, stands next to a T-6 Texan II at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., March 31, 2021. Atkinson saved the life of a motorcyclist following a nearly fatal accident in mid-March. 


A Reservist in training to become a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot was instrumental in saving the life of a local motorcyclist on his way back to Vance Air Force Base on March 20.

2nd Lt. Max Atkinson, a student pilot in the 71st Student Squadron at Vance and projected to be assigned to the 465th Air Refueling Squadron at Tinker AFB upon graduation, used rapid response and quick thinking to resuscitate a motorcyclist after he was thrown from his motorcycle in an accident on the highway.

“I was traveling northbound on State Highway 74 out of Oklahoma City,” said Atkinson. “A motorcycle passed me and rear-ended an SUV.”

The man was thrown from his motorcycle roughly 100 feet into the center median of the highway. Atkinson stopped his car and approached the scene to find the motorcyclist face down and unresponsive.

“I am a certified EMT and carry my (medical supply bag) in my Jeep,” Atkinson said. “I did a quick scan to triage my focus, and he was my top priority.”

Atkinson, who became certified as an EMT in 2014, called emergency services and was able to detect a weak pulse. He was then joined by a local nursing student who also stopped to provide assistance.

“He had several broken bones,” Atkinson said. “I made the decision to roll him on his back in order to clear his airway and begin CPR.”

Emergency services arrived on the scene, and firefighters were able to provide supplemental oxygen while life-saving measures continued. Paramedics arrived shortly after and transported the man to a local hospital.

Atkinson later received an email from the paramedic, Marcus Brushings, who had taken over at the scene, to let him know that the man was alive and in critical condition. He stated that without Atkinson’s quick actions, the man would not have survived his injuries.

“Not many citizens would have the equipment, skills and bravery to perform life-saving actions,” Brushings said. “(Atkinson) saved a life, and that is one of the greatest honors one can earn.”

His heroic actions are being recognized by both his current and future leadership, including Col. Jay Johnson, 71st Flying Training Wing commander at Vance.

“We are incredibly proud of 2Lt Atkinson,” Johnson said in an emailed statement. “The decisive action and heroism he displayed to save the life of a complete stranger speaks to the caliber of Team Vance’s Airmen. Max embodies the values of integrity, service, and excellence that the US Air Force prides itself on.”

Lt. Col. Matthew Biggs, the 465th ARS commander at Tinker, said the actions show Atkinson will be a good fit with the squadron.

“Max’s amazing instincts, drive and determination are just a few attributes that demonstrate his commitment to becoming an extraordinary Air Force officer,” Biggs said. “The display of integrity and leadership throughout this horrific event certainly proves that Max possesses the tools necessary to excel as an Okie aviator.”

Atkinson, a Texas native, said he was humbled by the recognition of his actions.

“Truly, I didn’t do anything beyond what anyone else would have done in my situation,” Atkinson said. “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right skills.”

Originally a pre-med major, Atkinson took flying lessons and instantly knew that he wanted to make it a career. He then joined the Air Force Reserve following the example of his grandfather who served during World War II.

“Throughout my training I have had multiple Okies go above and beyond to help support me,” Atkinson said. “I can’t wait to come back to such a storied and unique unit.”

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