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Missouri Airman stops apparent suicide

Col. Michael Pankau, 139th Airlift Wing commander, salutes Master Sgt. Heidi Utt for stopping a woman from possibly jumping to her death in an apparent suicide attempt May 24, 2012. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson/Released)

Col. Michael Pankau, 139th Airlift Wing commander, salutes Master Sgt. Heidi Utt for stopping a woman from possibly jumping to her death in an apparent suicide attempt May 24, 2012. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson/Released)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- A citizen-Airman acting as a good samaritan here May 24 stopped a woman from possibly jumping to her death in an apparent suicide attempt at the US Route 36 Bridge over the Missouri River.

Master Sgt. Heidi Utt, with the Missouri Air National Guard's 139th Airlift Wing, said she was driving to work when she noticed a woman who climbed over a cement barrier and onto the bridge's outer light pole.

"I instantly pulled over and got out the car and started rationalizing and talking and engaging in conservation with her," said Utt.

Utt reached over the side of the bridge and grabbed the woman's arm and leg and "just held on for dear life."

"I was ready to help," she said. "I saw somebody in need, and that's what I did."

Alone, Utt said they talked for several minutes, and she ensured the woman that she and others cared for her and that there was help available.

Another bystander then called for help, and they got the woman back over the barrier.

"She's a true hero," said Col. Michael Pankau, wing commander. "She took it upon herself to save that woman's life."

Pankau said he also drove across the bridge on his way to work and stopped when he saw Utt and others helping.

"By that time the Police were there, and they took her to assistance," he said.

"Heidi is a role model for what we all hope we would do to prevent the suicide of a fellow Airman, a friend, a family member, or in her case, a total stranger."

Intervening in suicide is something the Air Guard addresses nationally.

Its suicide prevention program, "Wingman Project," at wingmanproject.org, states that fellow Airmen or "Wingmen" watch over and care for each other.

"We do an annual training ... on being a Wingman, and knowing the signs of suicide, how to interact with Airmen and everyday civilians," said Utt.

Wingman Project was recognized among the best suicide prevention programs in the Air Force in 2009. It provides resources and tools to help prevent suicides, and it trains citizen-Airmen and their families to recognize the signs and provide help.

Follow-on classroom training can certify Airmen in Ask, Care and Escort and in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, which prepare service members to stop someone from taking their own life.

A new Air Force mobile phone application is also designed to provide resiliency and safety information to Airmen and is at airforcevirtualwingman.com.