Victor Vaña, a veteran lineman at Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, was driving home on Saturday, January 23, when the call came over his truck’s two-way radio.
A dispatcher asked Vaña if he could retrieve a Texas Army National Guard paratrooper stuck in the branches of a tree at the Camp Swift training site near Bastrop, east of Austin. Apparently, paratroopers jumping from an aircraft during a training exercise were blown off course, and at least one found the Lost Pines—the towering loblolly pines for which Bastrop County is famous.
When Vaña arrived, he saw Bastrop and McDade volunteer firefighters and emergency and military personnel helplessly looking up at the paratrooper entangled in branches about 40 feet high. The ladder on the Bastrop fire engine was too short to safely reach the paratrooper. Moreover, he was in an awkward position, with one leg caught in a branch above his head, and he reported that the straps on his equipment had cut off his blood circulation, causing his left side to go numb.
Vaña quickly backed his truck into position, put on his safety harness and raised the boom, lifting his truck’s two-person bucket nearly to its full height—just a little over 40 feet. Within minutes, he assisted the paratrooper into the bucket, lowered the boom and watched as medical personnel attended to him on the ground.
As Vaña gathered his equipment and prepared to leave, Bastrop Fire Chief Henry Perry approached. “OK, now we can get the other one,” Perry said.
Vaña looked at him in disbelief. “Another one?”
Sure enough, out of view about 100 yards away, a female paratrooper was clinging like a squirrel to a branch of another tree of similar height. Vaña repeated the process, safely retrieved her and then went home for the day.
Perry later presented Vaña a plaque recognizing him for the twin rescues.
Vaña, 50, shrugs off the fuss: “I don’t want to sound like I’m humble or anything, but I just did what I had to do and went on.”
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