Hero cadet from Loomis talks down suicidal jumper, finds stranded pilot in 3-day span

Air Force Cadet Third Class Jack Bell, 19, graduated in 2016 from Del Oro High School in Loomis.
Air Force Cadet Third Class Jack Bell, 19, graduated in 2016 from Del Oro High School in Loomis. U.S. Air Force

An Air Force cadet from Loomis played the hero twice in the span of 72 hours — first by finding a pilot whose plane went down in a mountainous area just west of Gilroy, then talking a suicidal man down from a freeway overpass.

On leave from the Air Force Academy over Presidents Day weekend, Cadet Third Class Jack Bell decided to rent a plane and fly from Auburn to Monterey. Bell, 19, had earned his pilot’s license while attending Del Oro High School, from which he graduated in 2016.

Not far from his destination, Bell’s radio crackled with a request from the Northern California TRACON office. A pilot had called in reporting an engine failure in the area before its plane’s communications system went dark. Could Bell cut down through the clouds and look for the downed plane?

“It wasn't really a second thought for me,” Bell said. “In every intention and every action that we do, at end of day, it’s the people that matter the most. That’s a value that's been instilled in me since I was little kid.”

It turned out the pilot had managed a deadstick landing on a freeway median, sandwiching his intact airplane between confused drivers on either side. Bell spotted the plane and reported its coordinates back to the TRACON center, which then contacted first responders who rushed out to the scene.

Back at the Academy three days later on Feb. 20, Bell was driving to the gym when he noticed a man standing on the edge of an overpass 20 to 30 feet above Interstate 25.

Bell pulled over onto the road’s shoulder, turned on his hazard lights and called 911, then got out of his car to talk to the man.

“At first he was kind of reluctant to talk to me about what was going on,” Bell said. “But after a couple minutes talking to him, I think he kind of snapped out of it and when it came to his attention of what it was he was doing up there, he got very emotional.”

A member of Bell’s immediate family has struggled with depression, he said, which helped him understand how to talk to the man on the ledge. They connected over religion and the man’s family — a wife and two children — before Bell asked, “How about you and I walk off this bridge together?”

The two walked over to a nearby Starbucks parking lot, arriving there at the same time as police officers. Bell's commanding officer, Maj. Jamie Johnson, commended the cadet for going out of his way to do the right thing.

“Jack is an exceptional testament of how one Airman can make life-changing impact on others,” Johnson said in a prepared statement.

Both sides of Bell’s family have roots in the Sacramento area. After moving frequently during his father’s 20 years in the Navy, Bell’s family settled in Loomis in 2012 in part so Bell and his siblings could attend Del Oro High, where their uncle is the principal.

Bell’s mother, Suanne, is an assistant principal at Woodcreek High School, and his younger brother plans to attend the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., next year. He said his family’s dedication to public service impressed upon him the responsibility to help others.

“I’m thankful to have that support to give me those kinds of values, and coming to U.S. Air Force Academy has only enhanced those values for me,” he said. “I would (intervene) again in a heartbeat if that’s what I was called upon to do.”

Benjy Egel: (916) 321-1052, begel@sacbee.com