Richard J. La Paglia, 33, tractor mechanic, helped to rescue Everett L. Neer, 34, airplane pilot, from burning, Chandler, Arizona, August 25, 1957. When the biplane he was using to dust crops struck the top of a tree and crashed into a cotton field, Neer lost consciousness and slumped forward in the cockpit as the engine, ripped from the fuselage by the impact, fell to the ground and burst into flames which quickly spread to the plane. Richard and his brother, Jesus La Paglia, 26, drove to the scene and saw Neer still in the cockpit as flames four to five feet high burned on parts of the wings and the front of the fuselage, while lesser flames burned inside the cockpit and on the ground at one side of the plane. Richard ran to the side of the plane while Jesus ran to the tail and climbed onto the fuselage. The heat was intense. At the cockpit Richard extended his arms within two inches of the flames and grasped Neer from the front as Jesus, on the fuselage behind the cockpit, took hold of Neer from behind. With effort they lifted Neer, whose safety belt had been torn loose, from the plane and onto the ground. Aided by another man, Richard and Jesus rolled Neer, whose trousers were burned away to the knees, in the cotton plants to smother his smouldering clothing. Richard then carried Neer to a safe distance from the burning plane. Firemen arrived and extinguished the flames. Neer suffered head and internal injuries and third degree burns on 35 percent of his body. He was removed to a hospital where he died 33 days later. Richard sustained no bums, but the hair on his arm was singed. Jesus suffered hand burns caused by contact with a hot zipper on Neer’s flying suit, and these burns healed.
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