It was an ordinary, if long, flight from Naples, but some 45 minutes out from Hampton Roads, it turned into something else for Petty Officer 1st Class Gerardo Alvarez, on his way to join the crew of USS John C. Stennis at Newport News Shipbuilding.
A flight attendant had stumbled, struck her head and was lying unconscious on the floor of the Navy transport plane. Alvarez, a physical therapy tech whose normal duties involve muscle strains and skeletal issues, scrambled.
But every Navy hospital corpsman has to know, train and be regularly tested on basic life-saving skills. Alvarez, a Los Angeles native who joined the Navy specifically to become a corpsman, says anyone on his Stennis team could do the same.
“I’d just been recertified for CPR,” he said. “Everything just kicked in — muscle memory.”
Kneeling next to the unconscious flight attendant, he couldn’t detect a pulse. He started chest compressions, tilted her head back so he could fit an oxygen mask from the plane’s first aid kit onto his patient. Another sailor hastened over, to hold the flight attendant’s head steady while Alvarez concentrated on chest compressions.
“You have to keep it up until the EMTs come and can take over,” he said.
So as the pilot, with clearance for an emergency landing at Atlantic City, banked and turned and then landed, he kept going: on the floor of the plane, by the flight attendant lying there.
No seat belt.
If there were bumps or turbulence, he didn’t notice.
“At times like this, it’s the patient first,” he said. “You don’t think about yourself.”