Sailor saves flight attendant’s life on long Navy trip

It was an ordinary, albeit long, flight from Naples, but about 45 minutes from Hampton Roads, it turned into something else for Petty Officer 1st Class Gerardo Alvarez, en route to join the crew of the USS John C. Stennis in Newport News. Shipbuilding.

A flight attendant had tripped, hit her head and was lying unconscious on the floor of the Navy transport plane. Alvarez, a physical therapy technician whose normal duties involve muscle strains and skeletal issues, fell out.

But every member of the Navy Hospital Corps must know, train, and be regularly tested on basic lifesaving 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 had just been recertified for CPR,” he says. “It all clicked – muscle memory.”

Kneeling next to the unconscious stewardess, he couldn’t detect a pulse. He began chest compressions, tilted his head back so he could fit an oxygen mask from the plane’s first aid kit on his patient. Another sailor rushed over to hold the flight attendant’s head steady as Alvarez focused on chest compressions.

“You have to keep going until the paramedics arrive and can take over,” he said.

So while the pilot, with clearance for an emergency landing in Atlantic City, banked and turned and then landed, he continued: on the floor of the plane, near the officer board 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 of yourself.”

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, [email protected]