Local Caltrans Duo Gets Medal of Valor Award for Pulling Flight Instructor From Burning Plane

Caltrans District 1 Facebook post:


Two men spray down the wreckage of plane that crashed at the Dinsmore Airport in 2012. [Photo by Tracy Burgess]

This coming Tuesday the office of Governor Jerry Brown is putting on the annual Medal of Valor Award Ceremony for state employees in Sacramento, and two of the four Caltrans employees being honored work in District 1.A small airplane crash in early February 2012 at the Dinsmore Airport near Route 36 in Humboldt County required the fast response of District 1 Equipment Operators Dave Ackley and Dain Hartman of the Bridgeville Maintenance Crew.These two had just finished working near the airport when they came across the scene of the fiery wreck.When they rushed over they found a student pilot out of the plane, but the flight instructor was still inside with signs of injury.

Ackley quickly grabbed a fire extinguisher, knocked down the flames enough to pull the instructor out, and — just like in the movies — as they were getting away the fuel tank caused a fireball to explode higher than the nearby power lines. The crew then put out the flames with shovels.

Other responders then started to arrive — the local ambulance was on the scene followed by the fire department and both medical and CHP helicopters.

These two Caltrans employees reacted naturally to do what was right in the moment, and they’ve denied interviews since then as they are private guys who don’t want the spotlight.

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Left to Right: Dain Hartman and Dave Ackley

“It had all happened so fast that there was no time to think,” they said. “It was all about saving the crash victims and self-preservation.”

“We are proud of Dave Ackley and Dain Hartman,” said District 1 Director Charlie Fielder. “The heroic actions of these men exemplify the culture of Caltrans employees. Their lives are dedicated to public service.”

The Caltrans Bridgeville Maintenance crew responsible for extinguishing the grass fire included also included Mike Weber, Tracy Burgess, Jason Sells, and Lee Robinson.

Earlier Chapter: Plane Crash–Nose Down; Pilot and Student from SoHum



  • Yay! That’s our guys! Well done.

  • Amazing! These men are hero’s thank God for their quick actions!

    • sharpen your pencil

      All around good guys. Worked over the mountains for many years. Always look forward to a good BS session when Dave is on the sign!

  • Thank God these Hero’s are our Hero’s!!I feel much safer having these amazing folks caring for us.THANK YOU ALL

    • You bible thumpers crack me up! God’s always there when things go right, huh? If they had died, would you still be thanking god? Of course not. Grow up and stop believing in imaginary people!

      • Wow!really I’m not a bible thumper,but thanks and God has something to do with you being here.and my life is full of bad shit,doesn’t mean I’m giving up what I,me believe.And I’m all grown up.u stop being an ass.trying being kind goes further

      • sharpen your pencil

        It is kinda funny. If you are in high school and believe Santa is real, people would think your crazy. But you can be a full grown adult, believe in angels and god yet everyone is supposed to think you have full mental capabilities…. Again, kinda funny!

  • Super proud! Two great guys, “just doing their jobs”!

  • I believe you are both entitled to the beverage of your choice!

  • The best of Budweiser Beer to these fine outstanding gentleman, Kym ,put it on my tab.

  • I was There! Quite Amazing to behold!

  • I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart that was my son in that plane, you two gentlemen are my hero’s I cannot thank-you enough, you two deserve that medal.

  • I am the flight instructor that was pulled out of C-172 N3879S on February 3, 2012, at Dinsmore airport, by Dain Hartman and Dave Ackley. Since that date every morning when I wake I thank both of these men and everything out there for my life. While I was sitting in the airplane, unable to move, with the fire growing from the engine and lapping at my feet, my only thoughts were that I had had a good life and I was about to die. It was okay. Seemingly at the last moment, I was pulled out and clear of the airplane before it erupted in flames. For that I cannot thank these two men enough…I owe them my life and I’m happy and proud for both of them that they have finally been recognized for the brave actions they took that day. I still fly. Still love it. Still teach flying. All I can say is how much I appreciate what they did and THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. I owe my life to them both.

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