Helicopter pilot involved in Merced County crash meets rescuer

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- A pilot who was pulled from a burning helicopter in the North Valley met one of his rescuers for the first time since the crash. The pilot was in critical condition after the crash last summer and spent more than a month in a coma. But on Monday, he and his family had a chance to thank one of the men who saved his life.

Cellphone video captured the moments after a crop duster crashed into a Merced County field on the morning of July 18. The man recording it was home with his children when he heard the impact and spotted the fiery wreckage outside. But he suddenly stopped filming when he realized the pilot was still trapped in his seat. He and another witness then rushed over to unbuckle the victim and pull him out of the burning helicopter.

"He was still breathing, he was still moving. I mean there was still life in him, so that's why I took the chance," said Jeffrey Saechao.

That heroic act earned Saechao the sheriff's department's first ever lifesaving award for a citizen. He received a medal during a ceremony Monday morning and a gift from the helicopter company. But what made it even more special was the reunion with the man he rescued.

"I was shocked to see him actually walking. I expected someone to be in a wheelchair, and for him to be walking and talking and understanding -- that's really comforting," said Saechao.

Pilot Bryan Cantrell says he remembers hitting the guide wire of a power line and plummeting toward the ground, but not much else. He woke up from a medically induced coma 45 days later with major injuries, including broken bones and head trauma that still impairs his vision. But the quick response spared him from any burns and saved his life.

"I saw the helicopter the other day and just couldn't believe that anybody came out of that. Thanks to two individuals pulling me out of it that's why I'm here," said Cantrell.

The other man involved in the rescue -- Johnny Garcez -- works all over the country and could not be at Monday's ceremony, but he will also receive the same award.

As for Cantrell, he was working as a full-time teacher and a part-time pilot at the time of the crash. He said he hopes to do both again in the future, but right now he's focused on his recovery and his family.

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