updated 9/11/2006 11:02:49 PM ET 2006-09-12T03:02:49

Ron Rucker, a Redmond-based smokejumper, dragged himself from the wreckage of a twin-engine airplane after it crashed in Nevada on July 21, 2005. And then he went back to retrieve the two others who were in the aircraft, risking his own life.

On Wednesday, Rucker will receive the Chief's Award for Heroism and Emergency Response from Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth at a ceremony in Arlington, Va.

Rucker, 52, was serving as an air-tactical group supervisor on the Aero Commander 680, directing firefighting resources on the Humboldt-Tolyabe National Forest, when it crashed on takeoff from North Las Vegas.

"The whole airplane broke apart," Rucker told the Bend Bulletin. "The whole front end of the plane was gone. Both engines were running full power. I was expecting it to burst into flames any minute."

‘Pretty happy boy’
Rucker said he was a "pretty happy boy" when he realized he could move his legs. He got out of the plane as quickly as possible, although he doesn't remember how.

Rucker thought the two other people in the plane were dead. But then he saw that Marge Kuehn-Tabor, a smokejumper he was training to be an air tactical group supervisor, was still alive -- and he went back into the the wreckage and dragged her out.

Then he went back again and again to try to retrieve the pilot, Jonathan Stairs, all the while expecting the plane to catch fire.

"My first thought was to save myself, but after I did there was no question" about going back to save the others, he said.

‘Call of duty’
"It was certainly above and beyond the call of duty," said James Morrison, a Forest Service intermountain region aviation safety manager who helped investigate the crash and nominated Rucker for the award. Morrision said Rucker disregarded his own safety and the injuries he suffered himself.

Kuehn-Tabor had compressed vertebrae and cracks in her pelvis, and Stairs had multiple leg fractures and a head injury, according to the Forest Service. Both are still recovering.

Rucker suffered multiple cuts and bruises, pulled muscles and a dislocated toe.

Smokejumpers are highly trained firefighters who parachute into areas difficult to reach through other means, generally as an initial attack.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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