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Airman credits PPE for saving life in motorcycle crash

An Airman with a cast on his foot poses for a photo in front of an American flag

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Diaz, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight line expeditor, was sitting at a red light on his Honda VFR800 Interceptor when he was hit by a truck near Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, May 6, 2019. Diaz credits his personal protective equipment and motorcycle safety classes for saving his life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Dana J. Cable)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

A lot of people have said the phrase, ‘I feel like I got hit by a truck’ in a figurative sense, but when U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Gabriel Diaz, 19th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight line expeditor, says it, he says it from experience.

Monday, May 6, 2019, started as a normal day off for Diaz.

“I didn’t have work that day because I had just had weekend duty, and my boss gave me the day off,” Diaz said. “It was just a typical day. I woke up, did some yard work, kissed the wife goodbye, and then hopped on my bike.”

Diaz was on his Honda VFR800 Interceptor heading north on Highway 5 when he got into the left-hand turning lane on a green light. Since there was on-coming traffic, Diaz waited to turn left.

“The lane there splits into two, so there is a straight-away lane and a left turn lane,” Diaz said. “The guy that hit me was following behind a van too closely, and when the van moved over into the straight away lane he didn’t see me there waiting to turn left and thought he was still in a straight-away lane.”

Diaz was then hit from behind by a truck traveling around 40–45 mph.

“He didn’t react at all and didn’t see me sitting there,” Diaz said. “It happened so fast, and I didn’t even know he was coming. I didn’t hear squealing of brakes, no horn, he just drove right through me.”

Diaz recalls, it sounded like a shotgun going off in his helmet and remembers seeing his feet up in the blue sky before landing on top of his motorcycle, which was laying down sideways in the middle of the road.

“I had to run and get myself and my bike out of the middle of the road, and when I pushed my kickstand back down with my foot I knew it was broken,” Diaz said.

While luck played a part of his survival, Diaz credits his personal protective equipment for saving his life.

“My helmet did its job,” Diaz said. “You can see on the glove where I came down on my hand trying to stop myself from falling and then on my boot where it broke both the passenger and driver foot pegs clean off the bike.”

Diaz walked away with two broken bones in his foot and a bruised pelvis.

“In the Air Force, we are required to wear full protective gear when riding,” Diaz said. “In Arkansas, you can see guys riding around in shorts and flip flops. If I would have been riding like that, I would have lost my foot.”

Protection against the hazards of riding a motorcycle begins with good safety practices, riding techniques and PPE.

“Without the proper PPE, there is nothing between the rider and the roadway,” said Deane Duerkop, 19th Airlift Wing occupational safety manager. “Ensuring your PPE is fitted properly, and hasn’t expired is also critical if wanting to survive a crash. The next time you gear up, consider the possibility of flying 30 feet in the air, then impacting the roadway or another vehicle.”

Diaz is a big proponent of the mandatory Air Force motorcycle safety classes and mentorship rides.

“Taking mandatory motorcycle rider safety courses is another defense in preparing yourself to combat the hazards you’ll encounter on roadways,” Duerkop said. “The initial course is the Basic Riders Course, and it will prepare the Airman that has never ridden a motorcycle to safely operate and navigate all potential roadway hazards.”

“I have always been prepared on how to quickly stop my bike, swerve out of the way or throttle out of something, and the motorcycle safety classes teach those skills,” Diaz said. “That’s one reason I went to multiple riders classes, because that knowledge you get from experienced riders is invaluable.”

Any seasoned rider will tell you it’s not a matter of if you will go down, it’s a matter of when, according to Diaz. So it’s important that riders protect themselves with good boots that at least cover the ankle, gloves, a good Kevlar jacket, and a Department of Transportation-approved helmet.

The responsibility for road awareness doesn’t fall solely into the hands of the motorcyclist; automobile drivers also need to pay attention and be watchful. In this case Diaz did everything right, and there was nothing he could have done to prevent the accident.

So far this fiscal year the U.S. Air Force has had three motorcycle fatalities.

“If a motorcycle rider is involved in an accident, ensure you comply with all federal or state laws as applicable and seek medical attention, if required,” Duerkop said.

Within 24 hours of an accident, notify your supervisor that you were involved in an accident. The supervisor will complete an AF Form 978, Supervisor’s Mishap Report, then route it to your unit safety representative and commander. Depending on the severity of the accident, an appropriate-level safety investigation will be completed by the 19 AW Occupational Safety Office. As a reminder, the safety office personnel are there to serve Team Little Rock and can be reached at (501) 987-3290.

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