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Douglas Andrews / Jul. 15, 2020

One Man’s Life-Saving Catch

When a boy’s life was on the line, Phillip Blanks had what it took to save him.

“Throw the baby down!” yells a frantic woman, and in an instant the boy is airborne, spinning wildly, falling like a rock.

The video is grim, graphic, and heartrending. In the ultimate act of motherly love, a young woman, engulfed in flames and about to die, has just hurled her three-year-old son over the railing and off the balcony of her third-floor apartment. This was her only chance to save him.

Phillip Blanks, 28, is still barefoot, having heard the commotion and run across the parking lot to see if he can help. He’s not in position yet, and he has less than a second to get there. But he charges hard, spitting up sand and shooting his arms out in a desperate lunge toward the plummeting boy.

Little Jameson could’ve come down any which way, but his head lands perfectly in the muscular crook of his rescuer’s left arm, the sheer force of his fall pulling them both to the ground. Blanks has held on, though. He’s broken Jameson’s fall, and in doing so has made the catch of two lifetimes.

“I just had tunnel vision on the baby,” said Blanks. “He was twirling as he was coming down, and I was just fortunate enough to catch him.”

“Jump, lady, c'mon!” the woman now screams, but by the time Blanks has risen to his feet with her son in his arms, Rachel Long, 33, has already turned back into the fire. She’s committed to finding her eight-year-old daughter, Roxxie, or to die trying. (Roxxie, though seriously burned, was rescued by neighbors. Her mother never made it out.)

“She’s the real hero in the story, not me,” said Blanks, “because she had the strength and the courage to get them outside. … It’s powerful, you know. To be in that type of situation and still care about life — and not yours. That’s very strong of her. She’s a warrior.”

Blanks, too, is a warrior, having served his nation in the U.S. Marine Corps. And though most folks throw the word around far too easily these days, Blanks is also a hero. Indeed, he’s done what each of us prays for the strength to do if ever so summoned: to behave boldly and courageously when lives are on the line.

“God was watching over us, especially him when he fell into my arms,” said Blanks, a graduate of Michigan’s Kalamazoo Central High School — the same school that produced Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter.

Unlike Jeter, though, Phillip Blanks played football in high school, and he continued to play as a wideout at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. “I know how to catch,” he said, “so I’ll give some credit to football.”

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