Plane crash hero acts out of instinct
Driving down Zelzah Avenue, Erick Rodriguez Jr., 20, thought he saw a remote control plane out of the corner of his eye.
But this was no model plane falling to earth.
This was real.
A Cessna 206, tail No. N5229U crash landed in a field on the California State University, Northridge campus off of Zelzah Avenue and Plummer Street on Sunday, Nov. 25, leaving the pilot and passenger with minor injuries, according to ABC News.
The plane had lost power in transit to John Wayne Airport, and the occupants, a married couple, attempted to make an emergency landing on the CSUN soccer field according to ABC.
That is where Rodriguez Jr. came in.
For Rodriguez Jr., a communications major at Pierce College, this Sunday started off in Riverside.
He had spent the night at a friend’s house and woke up at 6 a.m. to drive home after a night of bowling.
Rodriguez Jr. arrived home by 7:30 a.m. and slept for an hour before getting ready for a Sunday church service.
He and his roommate, Semaj Ray, left and were in church by 10 a.m.
“Me and him actually got in a little argument over some dumb stuff,” Rodriguez Jr. said.
After the church service, the two had reconciled and went out with a group of friends to the Topanga Shopping Mall and had lunch.
The group left the mall around 2:30 p.m., and Rodriguez Jr. and Ray dropped off one of their friends before beginning to head home.
The two were driving up Zelzah Avenue at about 3 p.m. when Rodriguez Jr. saw something out of the corner of his eye.
“I thought it was one of those toy, machine planes that people play with that are huge but not lifesize,” Rodriguez Jr. said.
But looking again, Rodriguez Jr. saw the reality.
“It was a final destination type moment where it just came down, hit the fence, hit a tree and flipped over,” Rodriguez Jr. said.
The plane flew parallel to him for a moment before crashing, he said. Had the plane not landed how it did, Rodriguez Jr. said he thought the situation could have been quite different.
“If it wouldn’t have hit the tree it probably would’ve landed in the street and hit me,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “The more I thought about it in the days after, I was like ‘damn that would’ve hit me.’”
Out of instinct, Rodriguez Jr. and Ray decided to go help.
“There was no second thought between the both of us,” Rodriguez Jr. said.
Rodriguez Jr.’s father, Erick Rodriguez Sr., was not surprised at all about Rodriguez Jr.’s actions.
“He’s very kind and caring person,” Rodriguez Sr. said. “He’s the kind of kid that would give you his shirt, even if it was his last shirt, just because you need it.”
Rodriguez Jr. parked the car and he and Ray ran to help without even closing their windows.
The first thing Rodriguez Jr. saw was the woman’s leg sticking out of the window of the plane.
“I thought the lady was going to be in pieces,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “I’ve seen pictures of crashes and stuff like that before. It’s a very blessed situation.”
The two ran towards the plane, finding leaking fuel and flames.
“I heard someone shout ‘don’t go over there, there’s gas and fire’ but I just kept going,” Rodriguez Jr. said.
The two began knocking on the plane to see if the occupants were all right, and they responded. Before they could think of a way to pull the two from the crash, another bystander came to help.
“This guy came out of nowhere and ripped the door open,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “I don’t know if there’s a handle on the plane, but he just ripped it off with his bare hands, no struggle or anything which was pretty berserk.”
Rodriguez Jr. and the man pulled the woman from the plane and handed her to Ray and another bystander. They then went back for her husband.
“His face was all gashed up and his eye looked like a baseball was under his skin,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “He was bleeding, but kept saying ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’”
The man who ripped the door open shook their hands and left without waiting for the police to arrive.
Rodriguez Jr. and Ray stood by and spoke to police and reporters, taking everything in.
“I just stood back and was like, that just happened,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “Everything started sinking in.”
A crowd had gathered by the time the police and paramedics arrived and moved the bystanders back.
About an hour after the crash, Rodriguez Jr. called his parents and told them he was going to be on the news.
“[We were] surprised and wondered why and then we found out why later on,” Rodriguez Sr. said. “It was powerful and it was a proud moment watching him on TV.”
His mom reacted by praising him for his courage upon seeing the broadcast.
“My dad just said ‘well done,’” Rodriguez Jr. said. “Well done was good enough for me.”
Rodriguez Jr. said his father, a 6th grade teacher who had immigrated at age 16 from Nicaragua after taking part in the Sandinista guerilla group in the 1970s, is the biggest influence on who he is today.
“Growing up, my dad was rough with me, tough, but he was always there,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “My ability to push through situations that are rough are definitely due to that.”
Rodriguez Jr. and Ray were at the scene speaking to reporters and police until 5:30 p.m. when they went home.
Once home, Rodriguez Jr. tried to get the events of that afternoon out of his mind.
“I didn’t want to think about it,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “I’m a big New York Giants fan, so the game was on so I kind of shut my mind off watched the game.”
Rodriguez Jr. fell asleep before his graveyard shift at Cooke Security that night, where the events of that day kept running through his mind.
“I kept seeing the plane crash, it was like on repeat,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “The most traumatic parts of what happened kept replaying again and again.”
Looking back, Rodriguez Jr. said he feels his faith is one of the major reasons he was willing to risk his life to help someone in need.
“The concept its very cliché, but do unto others as you’d like done to yourself,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “Also I don’t fear death, because I know God is going to take care of me.”
The sentiment is not lost on his father, either.
“He knows that good deeds require some sacrifice and he doesn’t shy away from that sacrifice,” Rodriguez Sr. said. “He would give up his life for someone, he certainly would.”
Rodriguez Jr. does not see himself as a hero; he said he was just doing what he thinks anyone should have done in the same situation.
“I don’t think of myself as that, I’m just another person trying to help,” Rodriguez Jr. said.
In the end, he was just happy to have been nearby.
“God puts people in the right times, in the right places,” Rodriguez Jr. said. “I’m just glad they’re alive.”