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Airmen survive motorcycle crash thanks to PPE and Wingmen

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Master Sgt. Lee Adkins, Headquarters Air Mobility Command KC-135 Air Training Squadron Quality Assurance manager, poses with his helmet in front of an X-ray photo of his right arm, July 24, 2012. Adkins was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident Jan. 15, 2012 and recently returned to flying status. Since his accident Adkins keeps his helmet from the wreck on his desk as a conversation starter, to talk about the importance of wearing personal protective equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth W. Norman / Released / 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Master Sgt. Lee Adkins, Headquarters Air Mobility Command KC-135 Air Training Squadron Quality Assurance manager, poses with his helmet in front of an X-ray photo of his right arm, July 24, 2012. Adkins was in a near-fatal motorcycle accident Jan. 15, 2012 and recently returned to flying status. Since his accident Adkins keeps his helmet from the wreck on his desk as a conversation starter, to talk about the importance of wearing personal protective equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kenneth W. Norman / Released / 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- "When I woke up in the ambulance, the paramedic took my helmet and shoved it in my face and said 'if you hadn't been wearing this we would be scraping your brains up off the pavement and you would be dead,'" Maj. Adam Travis recalled of a motorcycle ride that could have been his last.

This fiscal year there have been 394 motorcycle mishaps, 31 of which were fatalities or led to total disability. If two Altus Airmen had not worn the proper personal protective equipment, they would likely be numbers 32 and 33 on the list of fatalities.

Travis, 97th Air Mobility Wing flight safety officer, and Master Sgt. Lee Adkins Headquarters Air Mobility Command KC-135 Air Training Squadron Quality Assurance manager, were riding their motorcycles Jan. 15, 2012, in a group of five riders.

The group was about 3 miles south of the City of Altus when Adkins collided with a tumbleweed at 70 mph and was thrown from his bike, which then caused Travis to crash.

"I saw a huge tumbleweed out of the corner of my eye in the median," Adkins said. "I thought we were going to pass it because we were going 70 miles an hour and that is the last thing I remember."

"We didn't even break 5 miles out of town and a piece of tumbleweed comes from the opposite side of the road. The front rider pointed it out and everyone sees it," said Staff Sgt. Michael Fagan, 54th ARS formal training unit instructor and last rider in the group. "As soon as our lead rider passed the tumbleweed it rolled out into the road in front of Adkins. It looked like - from me seeing everything from the back - it hit his front wheel and exploded, and I'm thinking the tumbleweed slipped under his front wheel and brought it out. He goes down and then by reaction Travis locked up his brakes and went down."

"The last thing I remember seeing was this giant tumbleweed that was the size of a kitchen table come rolling out on the road as Leroy was driving through it," Travis said. "I woke up in the ambulance for about 30 seconds and then I woke up in the hospital a couple hours later and that is about all I really remember of it."

Adkins and Travis were riding in the second and third position of the group. They kept the proper distance between each rider, but at 70 mph that distance comes up fast.

"We were doing the speed limit, we were all far enough apart from each other, we were with other experienced riders, no one was doing anything unsafe, and we just had a very unfortunate situation pop up," Travis said.

Both Adkins and Travis suffered injuries, which could have been fatal if they were not wearing their PPE.

"I was wearing jeans, riding boots, leather jacket, gloves, smash resistant glasses and a helmet," Adkins said. "I was wearing a helmet and still fractured my skull. I had a brain bleed, shattered my forearm - had to have surgery on that, two plates, 12 screws - four broken ribs, punctured lungs, lacerated liver, torn medial collateral ligament, huge abrasion on the right side, which has had three surgeries, and a lot of ligament damage."

Adkins found out after the accident that emergency responders thought they might find him dead on arrival.

"The call went out to highway patrol as a possible fatality," Adkins said. "I didn't know that until a couple months after when the highway patrolman actually came to my house. If it wasn't for the gear, I wouldn't be talking to you right now."

Travis was wearing a full-face helmet made of carbon fiber. At some point during the accident he flipped over and started sliding on his face. The helmet still has pieces of tumbleweed embedded into it.

"My jacket, gloves, pants, boots and helmet - all of it got destroyed and the only thing I have to show of it is a tiny little scar on my thumb and backside from road rash," Travis said. "It absolutely kept me from dying."

Travis and Adkins are both back on flying status.

"Two of us that were wearing all of our PPE are still very much alive and very much back on active duty and flying status because of our PPE," Travis said. "If we weren't wearing that we would both be dead - no doubt about it."

PPE wasn't the only factor that saved Travis and Adkins. Staff Sgt. Lamar Daniel, 97th Training Squadron KC-135 Formal Training Unit evaluator boom operator, Christopher Massey, Northrop Grumman site support for the Graduated Training Integrated Management System, and Fagan, were the other members of the riding group and because of their actions Travis and Adkins are still alive.

Once Adkins and Travis stopped rolling down the road from the accident, the other three riders made sure they did not move and blocked the road off.

"Either of us could have had a spinal injury so if they had allowed us to get up or let someone else move us it could have been bad," Travis said.

Fagan and Daniel received the Individual, Team or Unit of the Quarter Safety award for their actions.

"I know that I am here today because of those guys," Adkins said. "PPE and the Wingman concept really did come into play. It's not something that we thought was going to happen, but if you have the right training, when it does happen you can just snap right into it and let the training kick in."

Both riders highly encourage motorcyclists to wear their PPE.

"If you're not mature enough to understand the ramifications and implications of having a wreck without your PPE on, you don't need to be riding," Travis said. "It has nothing to do with your skill level or the skill level of the people riding with you. It has to do with the situations that you can't control."

"I am glad the AF makes you wear PPE because you don't realize how much of an impact it will have until something bad happens," Adkins said. "You don't want to wait until something happens to find out if PPE was necessary or not. Even with just the minimal requirements, you may need some more. It is a life saver - that is for sure."

Both riders said they will never forget how this accident affected their lives and the lives of their families.