Le Bourget (France) (AFP) - A US Air Force technician received France's Legion d'Honneur medal on Monday for rescuing three French pilots from flaming wreckage after the horrific crash of an F-16 fighter jet in Spain in January.
Staff Sergeant Greggory Swarz, an electrical systems specialist, pulled three men to safety after a Greek F-16 crashed during elite NATO training exercises at Los Llanos air force base in southeastern Spain.
He received France's top honour at the Paris Air Show on Monday. Four other servicemen got bravery awards for their rescue efforts.
"I didn't see the plane crash, just heard the explosion and saw people running," said Swarz.
"I went around and looked and there was just a huge firewall. I tried to keep a cool mind and stay rational," he added.
Nine French personnel and the two Greek pilots died, and around 20 more were injured, when the F-16 crashed into parked aircraft.
"Once I got closer, I realised there were still a couple of people that were saveable," said Swarz. "I saw some stuff that shouldn't really be talked about. Some pretty horrific things."
Swarz ran into the inferno, burning his hands as he dragged three people from the fire, rolling them on the ground to put out the flames.
The third had lost a hand, so Swarz made a tourniquet with his belt.
"It was horrible. I couldn't breathe because of the heat and the smoke," said Swarz, adding that he was "very honoured and nervous" to be receiving the bravery award.
"It's human nature, there's people suffering, you've got to do as much as you can," he said.
Delivering the award, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Swarz had showed "extraordinary courage".
"He did not hesitate to throw himself in the flames to save his comrades," he said.
The French Air Force said last week that the inquiry into the crash was concluded and would be made public soon.