Almost a year and a half ago, Richard Dewhurst saved a man from a fiery death on the Alaska Highway.
Looking back now, Dewhurst laughs that he doesn’t even know the man’s name.
On Oct. 29, the Commissioner of the Yukon presented the 48-year-old life-long Teslin resident with an award for bravery for his actions, which saved the life of a young Zoom Boom driver in July, 2011.
Dewhurst had been leaving the Teslin Lake Campground when he saw the machine upside-down in the ditch.
“It was about kitty corner to the campground parking lot. It was flipped over and the wheels were still spinning,” Dewhurst said.
“I jumped out of my truck and went over there and I saw this young guy still in there. He was conscious. I asked, ‘Are you alright?’ and he said, ‘My back really hurts.’ I said, ‘Hang on, I’m gonna get you out of there.’”
The machine was lying on its side with its weight blocking the door. Dewhurst circled the wreck looking for a way to get the driver out when he saw flames creeping up behind the cab.
“The fire had started in behind him. I kicked the little window out, and pulled the glass out and grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him out of there,” he said.
Two minutes later, and the driver would have been dead. By the time Dewhurst pulled him about 50 metres from the crash, the wreck was engulfed in flames. In a letter of support for Dewhurst’s award, the RCMP said the fire was so intense that it would have been nearly impossible to extinguish.
“I didn’t know it could catch fire but I seen that it was starting to burn so I got him the heck out of there. I didn’t think a big hunk of steel could burn up that quick. Two minutes and the whole thing was completely in flames,” Dewhurst said.
“There was no time for thinking, it just had to be done. When I seen the flames, I thought, ‘Just get him the heck out of there.’ You don’t think about it that much in those situations. There’s no time to think.”
By then, other cars were stopping to investigate the fireball. Dewhurst had a satellite phone in his truck, but the battery was dead so he flagged down a passing trucker who radioed ahead to call emergency services.
Dewhurst did his best to make the rescued driver comfortable while they waited.
“It seemed like a long time, but it was really only about 25 or 30 minutes, if that, after the trucker called,” he said.
This wasn’t the first time Dewhurst instinctually responded to a life being endangered. In 2003, he was working in the bush with a group of friends. They were travelling on snow machines, and one of them flipped his sled on lake ice and crashed into the rocky shore.
“He got busted up pretty bad – couple broken ribs and worse,” said Dewhurst. The party was able to get the man to safety and he lived.
Dewhurst doesn’t know who nominated him for this award. He’s grateful, but “the biggest reward for me is that this guy’s alive today. I didn’t have to stand there and watch him burn up.”
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