As terrified passengers fled the burning Air France jet, Guy Ledez stood atop a muddy ravine, pulling survivors from the wreckage.
He then ran on board the burning wreckage of Flight 358 to make sure no one was left behind. The 37-year-old airport rental car manager says he didn't have time to stop and think of danger when he witnessed the crash during a routine Tuesday afternoon.
By Wednesday, his story had been widely circulated across Canada, and he was hailed as a hero who risked his life to save stunned passengers, all of whom survived the doomed flight from Paris.
It began around 4 p.m. when he was driving along the airport road, parallel to the descending aircraft in a heavy storm that had prompted a "red alert" at Pearson International Airport on the outskirts of Toronto.
He believes lightning might have struck the aircraft. The flight data and voice recorders — the so-called "black boxes" — that investigators recovered Wednesday could offer clues into the cause of the accident.
"There was all this lightning right on it, and then there was smoke, and then the plane just disappeared" down a ravine, said Ledez.
Risking his life to save passengers
Though other cars on the airport road quickly U-turned to get away from the crash, he drove his toward the top of the gully that was slick with rain.
"I looked down, and there's just a sea of people trying to get up," he said. "I had two babies passed to me."
He and another bystander — whose name he never learned — pulled survivors to safety and then went down to help some elderly passengers up the ravine.
Not knowing whether injured survivors remained on board, he said, the two men scrambled up the emergency slide at the tail of the plane. Each took an aisle and did a sweep to make sure nobody had been left behind.
All 309 passengers and crew had remarkably escaped serious harm.
Barely escaping an explosion
The other unknown good Samaritan jumped out. Just as Ledez headed toward an exit, he heard an explosion from the back of the plane, one that ultimately ripped the aircraft into pieces.
He jumped and ran for his life. Only then did he realize how much danger he had escaped.
"That sort of woke me up," he said. "That's when the reality set in."
Ledez and the other man met up with the pilot and other passengers and ran to safety by Highway 401, Canada's busiest freeway, where they were met by emergency officials.
Staff Sgt. Lee Weare of the nearby Peel police department said Ledez was interviewed by investigators immediately after the crash, and they verified his story with the other man who searched the plane and through photographs Ledez took with his cell phone.
The second man does not want his name made public.
"He provided that information to us, and he was one of the first civilians on the scene," Weare said. "He did assist some passengers out of the ravine, and he did indeed board the aircraft."
Ledez's hands bore the scars from where he climbed over a barbed-wire fence to get to the plane.
As the adrenaline wore off, his back began to ache as he and others waited along the highway. He was taken on the emergency buses along with the passengers to the terminal to talk to investigators.
‘There was no thinking involved’
Later that night, Ledez lay awake in bed replaying the crash, the explosion, and thinking about what could have happened. He doesn't know what to think about being called a hero.
"There was no thinking involved, just, ‘I gotta go help,’ so boom, I did it," he said Tuesday, sitting at a picnic table at the airport.
He always wanted to be a police officer and even studied law enforcement in college for a while. But the Budget job offered a steady paycheck, and he worked his way up the company ranks over the past 10 years.
Ledez, who is single, hopes his life gets back to normal after all the media attention dies down. "I'll have the same job. I'll have the same friends," he said.