Two Joshua Tree National Park rangers were presented with a prestigious award for valor by the Department of the Interior at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. yesterday. Danielle Sandoval and Jeremie Johnston were members of a trail crew working near Covington Flats in the park in July 2011 when they saw a puff of smoke and discovered that a small, home-built aircraft had crashed.
The pilot and sole occupant, Jeff Thornton, was ejected from the plane, and nearby vegetation was burning from leaking fuel. Sandoval and Johnston put out the fire, moved Thornton to safety and administered first aid to his life-threatening wounds and severe burns. They also instructed the Youth Conservation Corps workers to direct rescue personnel to the nearest access road, which was about a mile from the plane crash. Thornton was successfully evacuated and survived his injuries. For these actions that saved a life, and for showing considerable bravery and safe-guarding the well-being of others, Jeremie Johnston and Danielle Sandoval were among 21 who were honored with the Department of the Interior’s Valor Award.