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Bravery awards for former air cadets who risked their lives to give first aid after crash




Two former air cadets have been awarded national bravery honours for risking their lives for the victims of a head-on collision.

Elliot Potter, of Bury St Edmunds, and Rachel Laura Quercia-Smale, of Thurston, both 20, were among the first at the scene of the August 31 crash on the A134 near Alpheton involving a MINI and BMW.

And, thanks to their air cadet training, they were the only ones there qualified in first aid.

Rachel Quercia-Smale and Elliot Potter with a regional commendation - they have now received national awards from the Royal Humane Society.
Rachel Quercia-Smale and Elliot Potter with a regional commendation - they have now received national awards from the Royal Humane Society.

They encountered fuel leaking on to the road, meaning there was an explosion risk. Despite this, the couple wanted to help the occupants of the MINI and BMW.

Rachel was forced to stand in a pool of petrol while smoke rose from the BMW to assess the situation.

She realised one of the occupants, a woman, was dead but worked through the roof to immobilise the spine of the other occupant, a man, and supported him until the air ambulance arrived.

“We were quite lucky that both cars were convertibles,” said former Thurston Community College and West Suffolk College student Rachel.

“I didn’t have any other first aid training than what I’d done in the cadets, but I felt so confident about what to do.

“While we were waiting for the emergency services I kind of blocked everything else out and just concentrated on everything else in hand. Elliot was doing the same,” said Rachel, who was in 863 (Thurston) Squadron Air Training Corps at the time.

Elliot cared for a woman in the other car who was trapped by the steering column. He reassured her, protected her spine and managed to lift the steering column to relieve pressure on her legs.

Elliot said: “That day we were on our way to Freeport. We didn’t expect to be in the middle of something like that. I said to Rachel that the whole time we were dealing with it I had one eye on her – she was my first priority – and then I concentrated on making the people around us safe.”

They were both true heroes. Anyone who goes near a crashed vehicle that is smoking and has fuel spilling out of it is risking their life - Andrew Chapman

The Treatt flavour technician described the 15 minutes waiting for emergency services to arrive as ‘like a lifetime’.

“The whole experience really made me stop and think about what I wanted to do,” said Elliot, who was with 301 (Bury St Edmunds) Squadron until he turned 20 and is now a civilian instructor.

Elliot, on his decision to return to the air cadets as a civilian instructor, said: “It’s giving back what I got out of it. I probably wouldn’t have handled that situation so well I had I not been a cadet.

“We learned first aid, but the cadets also taught me leadership, which gave me the ability to manage other people – making sure they were okay and alright with what they were doing – that day.”

The man Rachel cared for died later in hospital, however the woman Elliot looked after suffered life-changing injuries but survived.

The experience changed Rachel’s career hopes and instead of studying physiotherapy as planned she is now training to be a nurse at Lincoln and wants to go into the RAF.

She has been awarded a Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Vellum, which has been approved by society president Princess Alexandra. Elliot has been awarded Testimonial on Parchment by the Society.

Elliot added: “It’s not something you expect (receiving the bravery award). I didn’t do it for recognition.”

Andrew Chapman, society secretary, said : “They were both true heroes. Anyone who goes near a crashed vehicle that is smoking and has fuel spilling out of it is risking their life.

“It takes immense courage to do what they did and they richly deserve the awards they are to receive.”

The Royal Humane Society is the premier national body for honouring bravery in the saving of human life.

Regina ‘Gina’ Brook, 79, of Bures Hamlet, and Bruno Delmote, 69, Great Henny, who were travelling in a gold BMW 325i, died following the collision.



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