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Surgeon hurt in freak accident saves paramedic sent to rescue him

(CBS News) A rescue mission last week in Northern California didn't go exactly as planned. A surgeon who broke his ankle while hiking in the middle of nowhere ended up saving the life of the paramedic who was sent to help him.

Air Force doctor Jeremy Kilburn was out hiking to remote Big Bear lake in Northern California with his dog Virgil and his best friend Dan Grasso when a freak accident occurred.

"(Virgil) was trailing behind me and he just kind of pushed into my left leg - not very hard, and just enough for me to take a kind of unplanned step," Kilburn said.

It was a misstep that badly broke his leg at the ankle. "I looked down and I knew it was dislocated." Kilburn snapped the bone back into place and started screaming for help.

Grasso heard Kilburn calling and went to him. "He diagnosed the situation right away," Grasso said. "(He said,) 'We're going to need a helicopter to get out of here. No way I can make it back to the trail.''"

Just then a group of campers came by. One of the campers was preschool teacher, Beth Fitch. Her group had a CB radio. "We made touch with our base camp and they relayed the 911 call for the helicopter evac," Fitch said.

Kilburn and Virgil waited to be evacuated. The California Highway Patrol chopper circled several times before landing safely on a flat granite rock. Paramedic Tony Stanley got out of the helicopter, took off his helmet, put on his medical vest, and prepared to climb up the slope towards Kilburn and Grasso. No one knows exactly how it happened - whether it was the uneven ground or the lowering of the rotor blades as the helicopter powered down - but suddenly Stanley was struck from behind by one of the rotor blades.

"He took maybe three steps toward us and then was hit in the back of the head by a rotor blade," Fitch said.

Grasso ran up the hill to tell Kilburn what happened to the Stanley. "My brain caught on fire," Kilburn said. "I just wanted to be down there and do what I could do to save his life." Kilburn and Grasso came down the hill as fast as they could. Kilburn said he didn't remember any pain from his leg, "I just remember I wanted to get there."

Kilburn found one of the campers applying pressure to stop the bleeding. "The whole top in this area (gestures to top of head) was just completely flattened (as if the blade came across the top of his head)," Kilburn said.

Kilburn called for Fitch to help him work on Stanley. Fitch said Kilburn did all this while "... trying to position his ankle so he wasn't in excruciating pain, which he was."

Together they stabilized officer Stanley. And, as Fitch held his head, the pilot flew the trio to a hospital in Redding, Calif. Stanley remains in the intensive care unit. He's alive today thanks to Kilburn, Fitch, the pilot and the other campers.

"There wasn't much action on my part," Kilburn said. He says don't call him hero, just call him an Air Force doctor.

To watch this story, click on the video in the player above.

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