Firefighter Helps Veteran With PTSD On An American Airlines Flight

Fire Captain Bobby Davidson was returning home from vacation when he noticed a fellow passenger was in distress. Burton and his wife were on a trip to celebrate their anniversary when he saw a woman in the terminal having what looked like a panic attack.

The incident happened on an American Airlines flight between MSY and DFW. Photo: Getty Images

When they boarded the American Airlines flight from New Orleans to Dallas, the woman Davidson had witnessed in the terminal was seated in the same aisle. When being interviewed by the Hilton Head Island Packet newspaper about the incident, Davidson said he heard the woman yelling, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”

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The woman had been in a plane crash

Davidson said that the woman happened to be a United States Marine Corps veteran and had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During the woman’s military career, she had been involved in a plane crash, and now the memories were coming back to haunt her.

“I can identify with that,” Davidson said. “I have my own battles.”

Before becoming a firefighter, Davidson served in the United States Air Force from 1983 until 1986. Immediately recognizing the woman’s difficulty breathing and anxiety as signs of PTSD, Davidson made use of his first responder training. The first thing he did was switch seats with his wife so that he could be next to the woman and hopefully reassure her that everything would be alright.

“She had physical scars and, obviously, emotional scars,” Davidson said. “And a desperate fear of flying.”

“The flight attendant asked me if she was going to be OK, and I said, I don’t know her, but I’ll try to help her,'” Davidson said.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that may affect people who have witnessed or lived through a traumatic event. It is especially prevalent in military veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He stayed with the woman for the entire flight

Davidson said that for the entire 90 minutes flight, he continued to talk to the woman and reassure her that everything would be OK. Regarding PTSD, he said that treatment and counseling were badly needed for military veterans and first responders.

“A lot of it, we do manage to put away,” Davidson said. “But some of it just won’t… It fills up. Everybody is different.

“Unfortunately for her, like a lot of us, you never know when that’s going to fill up.”

Firefighter Helps Veteran With PTSD On An American Airlines Flight
The flight time between MSY and DFW is 1h 35m. Image

When the aircraft started to descend on its final approach, the buffeting and loud noises seemed to send the woman’s anxiety to another level. Davidson said he talked with the flight attendant to arrange that the woman could get off the plane first. He said that as the two of them walked down the aisle to disembark, the woman continued to yell and had difficulty breathing.

“I think the airline did what they could,” Davidson said.

When speaking to Fox News about the incident, the Burton Fire Department confirmed that the woman was a military veteran with PTSD. They said that the crew was concerned that they would have to divert to the nearest airport, but fortunately, Captain Davidson stepped in to help.

Captain Davidson is specially trained to offer support to other firefighters who deal with tragedy and used his knowledge to help calm the situation. When speaking further about the incident, Davidson said:

“I’m sure, for her, I didn’t say everything right; I tried to give her what I could and what I would want someone to do for me.”

Captain Davidson
Captain Davidson used his training to help calm the woman. Photo: Burton Fire Department

In a show of its appreciation American Airlines wrote a letter to Davidson which read:

“We are all grateful that you were onboard and freely offered your medical expertise when it was needed most. Mr. Davidson, without a doubt, you greatly improved a difficult situation.”

It is almost certain that if Captain Davidson had not been onboard the flight that they would have had to make an emergency landing so that the woman could get off the plane.

Have you ever been on a plane and seen someone having a panic attack? If so, please tell us how the crew handled the situation in the comments.