Deputy Ann Millerbernd of the Ward County Sheriff's Department received the North Dakota Peace Officer's Association Life-Saving Award Wednesday afternoon after being nominated by Capt. Mike Nason for her role in saving a pilot's life last month.
Shortly before 6:15 p.m. June 17, a crop sprayer airplane went down in a field west of Minot Air Force Base, severly injuring its pilot far from the eyes of anyone and destined to die.
Luckily for him, another pilot saw the crash and reported it to the Ward County Sheriff's Department, with Millerbernd taking the call while driving Minot's south side.
She knew only to look for smoke and a plane flying overhead of the scene, and after "taking 198th over and tracking back," she located the site of the incident "roughly between 172nd and 180th."
"The closest she could get was a half mile away and she had to grab her medical bag and run a half-mile through the mud because we had rescue vehicles getting stuck in the field because it was very, very wet that day," said Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski of the deputy's actions that day. "She ran into the field, guided other units there, got the helicopter there from Trinity and stayed with him and helped him with his injuries."
"He knew the severity of the situation," Millerbernd said. "I didn't lie to him, but I also told him we can do this, we can get through this, and we can make it. That's the biggest thing, is keeping that positive attitude and giving him reason to keep going.
"No one had really trained for something like that," she said of her situation that evening. "When we've had our plane crash drills they happen in a more controlled environment up here at the airport. It doesn't happen in the middle of a farm field without real direction or any sort of GPS that's going to say this is where we're at."
And pinpointing the location was the hardest thing for dispatchers, who couldn't find her location on their computer systems.
"I'm running through a field trying to tell them what's going on, mud literally up to my knees, and they're like 'We can't find you,'" she said of the dispatchers. "That's kind of a distressing feeling."
Millerbernd was quick to name the others who helped her, including community ambulance, Minot Rural Fire Department, Minot Fire Department, Northstar, and the N.D. Highway Patrol. Most of all, though, she said the pilot was the real hero for his will to survive.
"Yes, I may have got there before anyone else and was able to find the location and give that out but it was the cavalry that came to back me up."