MORGANTON, N.C. – Within minutes of a single-engine plane crash here, North Carolina Army National Sgt. Charles Roper was pulling the pilot from the burning cockpit.
Roper was on his way to pick his children up from school Feb. 6 about 4:30 p.m. when he noticed a plane flying very low, almost at tree-top level.
"The plane took a nose dive like it was doing a crazy stunt. It never came back up,"Roper said.
Roper saw the plane crash and immediately put his truck into 4WD, driving through ditches and farmland to get to the crash site.
According to the Morganton News Herald, authorities believe the plane started its flight from the Silver Creek Airport, less than a mile from the crash site.
"When I pulled up I saw the plane and it was on fire with plane parts in trees, the propeller in the field and the pilot was in the plane, just lying there,"said Roper. "It all happened so fast, I didn't even have time to call 911. I rushed out of my vehicle and ran to the burning plane."
Roper, a full-time mechanic at the North Carolina National Guard's Lenoir Field Maintenance Shop # 2 and a military police officer in the 210th Military Police Company, based in Silva, said that the fire was all around the pilot and that he was yelling at him to get out of the plan, but the pilot was motionless.
"Fire was all around him and he was strapped in with the same type of seat belt harness we use in the Guard,"said Roper. "I reached in and pulled the quick release and I pulled him out of the plane. All I could think of was it exploding so I (dragged) him away from the plane. He was moaning and grunting and I told him to hang on."
Roper is no stranger to helping rescue people in dangerous situations. He was a Morganton public safety officer for six years and responded to many car wrecks, house fires and other adrenalin-pumping emergencies.
Others came to assist Roper and helped him pull the pilot further from the burning wreckage and on to the back of a pickup truck.
The pilot was safe but Roper's assistance was now needed by the first public safety officer to reach the crash site.
"Kim Davis, a Morganton Public Safety Officer arrived with a fire truck, and since I use to be a Morganton PSO, asked me to help pull the hose close to the plane while she turned the water on,"said Roper. "I straightened out the hose and Kim turned on the water and I manned the hose and helped get the fire under control. Soon after that, I could hear more EMS pulling on to the scene."
Roper stated that once the firefighters took the hose from him it was the first time he could take a breath and relax. He noticed his arms and jeans were bloody.
"I got with an EMS worker and grabbed a lot of baby wipes and cleaned off my arms as well as I could,"said Roper. "I told EMS I was leaving. I didn't want to stick around. I was just glad I could play the part of a Guardian Angel".
Roper got into his vehicle and continued on his way to pick up his children before local news made it to the crash site.
According to local authorities, the pilot was taken to a Charlotte hospital and received lacerations to the face and was "bruised and banged up" but expected to fully recover.
Roper's training as a member of the North Carolina National Guard and as a civilian first responder allowed him to respond quickly and decisively. His actions are the embodiment of Citizen-Soldiers living and serving in the communities they have sworn to protect.