Wesley Autrey and Dave Hartsock: Heroes Who Seized the Heroic Moment

Wesley AutreyBy Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

Most of the exceptional individuals profiled in this blog are heroes who devoted their lives to making the world a better place.  But not all heroes follow this same journey.  Some heroes are ordinary human beings who perform a single heroic act in response to an extraordinary situation.  They are compelled to make a quick decision to help someone at the risk of great injury to themselves.  In short, these individuals encounter a heroic moment, and they rise to the occasion by doing the right thing.

Recently, two men have seized the heroic moment in especially dramatic fashion, and we are pleased to give them the attention and accolades they deserve.  The first man is Wesley Autrey, who recently was waiting on a New York subway platform with his two young daughters, age 4 and 6.  Standing beside them was a 19 year-old film student named Cameron Hollopeter, a complete stranger to the Autrey family.  Suddenly, Hollopeter began having a seizure.  Autrey went to assist him, but the writhing young man fell onto the tracks.  Autrey looked up and saw an oncoming train barreling toward the stricken man.

Autrey found himself in a heroic moment.  There wasn’t enough time to pull Hollopeter to safety.  With two young daughters, Autrey could have easily and blamelessly done nothing.  But Autrey did the extraordinary:  He jumped onto the tracks, lay on top of Hollopeter between the tracks to protect him, and got as low as possible while five train cars rumbled over the two men.  Inches separated Autrey from certain death.

“I don’t feel like I did something spectacular,” said Autrey.  “I just saw someone who needed help. I did what I felt was right.”  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg presented him with the Bronze Medallion, New York City’s highest award for exceptional citizenship and outstanding achievement.

Our second hero who found himself in a heroic moment is Dave Hartsock, a skydiving instructor from Texas.  Dave HartsockOne day in March of 2010, Hartsock was taking Shirley Dygert on her first skydive.  During their descent, both her main chute and emergency chute failed to deploy properly.  Hartsock grabbed onto Dygert, tried unsuccessfully to help her, and then made a remarkable decision just seconds before impact with the ground.  To protect Dygert from the full force of the impact, Hartsock chose to position his own body beneath Dygert’s.  In short, he used his own body to break her fall.

Hartsock’s plan worked; Dygert was injured in the fall but is well on the way to a full recovery.  Because he bore the brunt of the impact, Hartsock unfortunately sustained devastating injuries.  The impact crushed his vertebrae, and he is now paralyzed from the neck down.  As with subway hero Autrey, Hartsock downplayed his gallant action.  “I couldn’t have lived with myself if anything had happened to her,” he said.  “It was my job to protect her. I did what I had to do, the only thing to do.”

The split-second heroic decisions of Autrey and Hartsock are just as impressive as any heroic actions we’ve featured in this blog.  When rare and dangerous situations arise that require immediate action, most people understandably freeze and fail to act.  Fortunately, there are exceptional people among us who, under desperate circumstances when lives are at stake, demonstrate the noblest qualities of humanity.  We’d like to believe that Autrey and Hartsock are modern-day Nathan Hales in their use and promotion of a powerful heroic script than any one of us can follow if the situation is right.  Today we salute and honor their remarkable actions.

Below Wesley Autrey describes his heroic act to David Letterman.

22 thoughts on “Wesley Autrey and Dave Hartsock: Heroes Who Seized the Heroic Moment

  1. Now these are the kinds of people that give me confidence for the future of the Human race. With all of the selfishness, violence and heartlessness in the world, it would be easy to believe that Humanity is a dead-end road on the map of evolution. But these guys remind us that people are essentially good, that altruism is real and heroism is not a fiction or aberration.

    It seems to be the nature of Pop Culture that fools and clowns are most often cultivated as our celebrities; it should be people like Mr Autrey and Hartsock who are given that distinction. Kudos to them for demonstrating what Human Beings are truly capable of.

    This essay in particular was a great idea, Scotty and George. 🙂

  2. now these people are wounderful, and vey active there courage is quite strange but Wesley Deserves more credit because, his act was out of kindness and it wasnt his job to do, he risked his whole life to save this mans life. And surprisngly he he humble about it, and is taking one day at a time

  3. This man is insanely heroic if you ask me. I don’t think a lot or if any man would have done what he did. He put his life on the line to save someone he didn’t even know. I look at it as a blessing because no one was hurt. Even after he save her life, he still kept his good personality, by saying that the only thing that got dirty or hurt was hi hat.

  4. The term ‘hero’ has always been extremely difficult to define. Everyone has their own views and opinions about what makes a true hero. However, I think that we all can agree that no matter what the definition of a hero actually is, these two men fit the mold, no questions asked. These two men risked their lives to save someone else, someone they did not even know. We hear every day about celebrities doing good deeds and donating millions of dollars to charities, but these two men are ordinary, everyday people. Many of us may think about risking our lives to save someone else, but when it comes down to it, how many actually would? I know that if I were falling 15,000 feet, with nothing to break my fall but the ground beneath me, deciding whether or not to put myself in harm's way would not be easy. These two men were not famous; they did not invent some spectacular piece of technology. They had families and lived simply, ordinary lives and yet, they risked everything to save a stranger. People may argue day after day about what defines a hero. Well, I say, look at what these two men did and you will find your answer.

  5. These men made extremely difficult decisions in a split second, decide to risk their own lives for a stranger. this selflessness grants them the label of Heroic Status

  6. The reasoning or thinking of unsung heroes is very interesting as they are not doing it for fame, occupation or credit. Instead these are everyday people that are willing to risk their own personal well being for unknown victims. Actions as such are often discussed in the form of reciprocal altruism and biological heredity – these extraordinary people are anomalies who accept and are willing to accept the responsibility of a situation. Autry and Hartsock heroic actions challenge common day people to step up and be heroes themselves.


  7. To me these two men demonstrated some of the greatest instances of heroism that I’ve ever heard or seen. People can save lives or fix a nation, but the impulsive decisions these men made were in situations that people couldnt even think of. The impulsive and courageous nature of these acts makes them real life heroes who did what they thought was right at the time and weren’t looking for fame or fortune.

  8. I could not say if i was in his situation i would have made the same decision. The decision he made is hands down heroic. I cant see many people disagreeing with me. To be able to sacrifice your life for a complete strange makes him a hero.

  9. These men strike me as truly heroic. It is often the everyday, “average joes” who step up and do remarkable things who seem to be the most inspiring. They are amazing not because they had any lasting impact on society or influence on culture, but instead because, when thrown into extraordinary circumstances, they were able to make heroic choices, putting themselves at serious risk to save others from harm. They both acted with selflessness–one for a new acquaintance, one for a complete stranger–with barely a moment to decide.

  10. Hi. I’m doing some research into heroic acts for my web-site and came across this site. WELL DONE for making sure people know about those acts of heroism and humanity that so often slip past the public eye. In my opinion the true heroes are the ones who do acts out of kindness for their fellow man, with no expectation of reward or indeed heroic status. I wish you all the very best on this site and will certainly be popping back.

  11. I think these men were really courageous. They were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, in Autrey’s case for a complete stranger. I know I would not have done the same in Autrey’s case, because of the two young children. I’m glad they get to regard him as a hero while he is still leaving.

  12. These two men will probably experience their “15 minutes of fame,” and then most of the world will forget their names or what they did. But they didn’t do it for fame. And the two individuals they saved, and their families will never forget what they did for them. This is an ultimate example of acting selflessly. Sometimes people who do heroic actions can be accused of doing it for personal gain, which does not negate the heroic act, but makes people question the hero and his or her motives. These two actions could not, in any way, present personal gain. These two men made split-second, life or death decisions. They put their lives literally on the line to save someone else. They didn’t think about the danger it might cause them; they thought that there was an opportunity presented in front of them to save another person’s life. They didn’t think twice about it. THAT is a hero, to me.

  13. Autrey became my greatest hero after I learned about him.
    Autrey’s act is the kind of act we can only see in fiction or movies. If I were him and even if I knew that there is enough space for 2 people to take cover under the train, I know that I would not do the same. The fear of seeing someone on the track while a train is coming would simply be too great for anyone to breathe or make a move, let alone jump down there to save someone.

  14. Here in Brazil we have lots of invisible heros! Many ordinary people put their lives on the line to save someone they didn’t even know. I work with skydiving here in Brazil and we know a lot of friends who helps withou asking nothing in returns.Your post was very nice! Thanks

  15. These two stories give me goose bumps everytime I hear thhem. I have not idea what I would have done in both of there positions. I would like to think I would have reacted the same way, but I fear I would not have. I think heroes that are able to weigh someone else’s well-being above their own.

  16. Having recently lost a good friend in a tragic subway accident, Wesley Autrey has become even more of a hero in my eyes than he already was. To think that he risked his own life to save the life of a stranger, while his two daughters stood by, is truly remarkable. The majority of people in this world would have never had the courage to jump on those tracks, as it seems like a path to an inevitable death. I commend Autrey’s actions and wish there were more selfless people in this world. He is a true hero.

  17. Wesley Autrey’s heroic moment and selfless act had a huge impact on society. He became an inspiration and a role model to everyone who’s heard of his story/witnessed his kind act. I pictured myself in his situation and I came to the conclusion that I would not have been brave enough to do what he did but I do wish there were more people like him. Our society could really benefit from more heroes like him.

  18. Wesley Autrey’s story is one I will probably never forget. His pure selfless act heroism is something that will inspire me for the rest of my life. I honestly don’t know what I would have done in his situation, but I hope for the future Autrey’s heroism will lead me down a path where I can confidently say I would jump in front of a subway train for a complete stranger if it were the right thing to do.

  19. I would like to say I would be able to do what Autrey and/or Hartsock did in their “defining moments” as heroes, but I really am not sure I would have the strength or courage to do so. To be able to put your own life on the line for someone else’s, let alone a stranger’s, is absolutely incredible. It takes a special kind of person, a special kind of hero, to be able to risk their life for another.

  20. Wesley Autrey is one of the most incredible kinds of heroes in my eyes. Without hesitating, he stepped in to save the life of someone with which he had no connection. Most people would never act so bravely. Autrey demonstrated courageousness and selflessness that is the pinnacle of heroism. The best part about him is that in interviews, he acts as if his heroism is no big deal and that he would expect anyone to do the same.

  21. Wesley Autrey is a true hero. The selflessness and courage he showed when he risked his own life in order to save a stranger, and in front of his two daughters, was truly remarkable. I also agree that what makes him even more of a hero is his humility when talking about the incident. Hopefully many will learn from Autrey’s example.

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