Flash flood calls for quick rescue, inspires community to give back

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The sound of rushing water is still clear in Airman 1st Class Tyler Webb's mind, as he remembers with a heavy heart the moment he decided to see past his own situation to save others in need of his help.

Aug. 4, Webb, an MQ-9 Reaper avionics specialist with the 432nd Maintenance Group, along with three Airmen from the 799th Air Base Group and three from the 820th RED HORSE Squadron, braved the rushing waters of a Nevada flash flood to save the lives of a trapped elderly couple.

"It was a pretty normal day," Webb recalled. "Throughout the day there was very little weather happening, and I guess I just didn't expect it to rain."

As the duty day drew to a close, the storm clouds rolled in. With them came the rain -- lots of it.

"I got caught up in a rain storm. It went from zero rain to zero visibility really, (and) really fast,” Webb said. “It just came in and left nothing for us to see."

As the visibility lessened, Webb and other Airmen leaving Creech Air Force Base, Nevada began to see others pull to the side of the road and stop as rushing rain water swept over U.S. Route 95, a two-lane highway north of Las Vegas.

"I realized the streets had begun to flood really fast," Webb said. "The right side was flooding faster, causing people to pull over to the left, so I followed everyone else."

As the water rose, escape to Las Vegas became less likely. Commuters crossed to the northbound side of the road, and many people became stuck in a steep, sand-filled median. Webb was one of those commuters who became stuck.

Webb recalls a sense of panic as he rushed to try and free his green Mercury Grand Marquis; a gift he said was given to him by his late grandparents.

"I tried to get my car out of the mud for a good five to 10 minutes before I finally heard someone yell at me to get out, because water began rushing over the side into the ditch," he explained. "I knew then it was too late for my car."

Feeling a sense of remorse at abandoning his grandparents' vehicle, Webb said he had just enough time to grab his Airman battle uniform top before he retreated to higher ground. He actually said he recalled a pang of guilt that he forgot to also grab his hat.

"As I turned, I saw a bunch of Airmen trying to help another car that was trapped," he said. "I didn't have enough time to focus on my car; I was worried about the other people. I saw that they needed my help, so I ran toward them and jumped into the water."

Webb rushed to the Toyota Prius, where Nellis AFB, Nevada Airmen struggled against the rising water to free the elderly woman trapped inside.

"At that point, the water was already knee high and climbing. The other Airmen already had the door partially open, so I grabbed it and pulled it all the way open,” he said. “The other Airmen grabbed the older woman and got her out of the car.”

Luckily, the three Airmen were able to save the couple before their white Prius was swept downstream, where it eventually came to rest upside down against a concrete culvert, partially submerged in water.

"I wanted to double check their vehicle before leaving it," he said. "I was more worried about the couple and my fellow Airmen's safety than my own."

As Webb left the vehicle he recalled the water's force was so strong that he could feel rocks being pulled out from under his feet.

"I ended up getting swept away, but luckily Airman 1st Class Christopher Jones was there to pull me out," Webb said.

In a video shot by bystanders that went viral within days after the flood, Jones, a fitness technician with the 799th ABG, can be seen extending his hand to save his wingman during the rescue.

"When I got swept away my only thought was, 'man, now I'm floating away,’” Webb said. “I remember Jones saying, 'grab my hand.' I grabbed his hand and he just yanked me out.”.

Webb described his thoughts after assisting in the rescue and evading his own close escape from the flood with great disbelief.

"I remember feeling a lot of adrenaline,” he said. “I honestly didn't feel anything for my car until after the experience was over with, and I saw it floating down the river. Then, I just thought, 'that's not good, that's my car right there.'"

In the aftermath since the flood, Webb said he has had plenty of time to reflect. Although he said he’s glad everyone survived the flood, he still expressed great sadness at the loss of his car, and how his one simple choice changed so much.

"My grandparents were soul mates," he said. "They passed within hours of each other; my grandmother on Thanksgiving Day and my grandfather the next morning."

Webb recalled that his car was the last thing he had to remember his grandparents by.

"After everything was done, I was left having to pay the impound fee for a totaled car that meant so much to me," he said.

Unfortunately, Webb is no stranger to this type of disappointment. A few months before the flood, he was the victim of a home burglary, which left him with financial hardship and forced him to replace many of his valuables that had been stolen.

"After my car was destroyed too, I was worried how I would make the trip to Creech," Webb said. "My parents were just happy that I was OK and offered to come and help me get back on my feet."

Although the journey has been difficult, there is a silver lining to Webb's story. His parents, who traveled to Las Vegas to support him, established a website where supporters are able to donate funds to help him buy a new vehicle.

"I was surprised that people I had never met, in states I had never been to, wanted to donate to help me," Webb said. "I was really touched by that; I guess what we did inspired them."

In total, more than $6,000 was donated in less than eight days, which Webb then used as a down payment for his replacement vehicle.

Webb said he was deeply touched by all the supporters and that he'd like to thank everyone who donated to help him.

"I'm no hero, I just did what I was trained to do and (what I think) everyone else in that situation would do," he said.

For Webb and his fellow Airmen who risked so much to save others, the experience has left a lasting impression.

"I would definitely do it again, but next time I'd stay on the road," he joked.

According to the National Weather Service, 82 deaths were attributed to flooding in the U.S. in 2013. More than half of victims were driving at the time of the floods.

Drivers are reminded not to risk driving through flooded roadways, since rescues are not always possible.