Officer James Cunningham
San Francisco (CA) Police Department-Airport Bureau
Washington, DC—The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has announced the selection of Officer James Cunningham of the San Francisco (CA) Police Department-Airport Bureau, as the recipient of its Officer of the Month Award for May 2015.
On July 6, 2013 at 11:25 a.m., Officer James Cunningham was on patrol at the San Francisco International Airport when he heard a Code 33 over the radio, indicating a plane was down. Asiana Airlines Flight 214 carrying 307 passengers clipped a rocky seawall while attempting to land, causing fire and smoke to erupt from the plane as jet fuel poured onto the runway.
Officer Cunningham immediately headed to the scene of the crash, directing a passing ambulance to follow him to assist with the rescue.
When he arrived at the scene, Officer Cunningham began assisting those in need. Officer Cunningham worked with the airplane’s crew to rescue the passengers, providing the crew with his knife to cut passengers free from their seats as he carried or directed them to safety.
Just as crew members believed they had cleared the plane of all the passengers, Officer Cunningham realized that the tail of the plane had been torn off in the crash and passengers were still trapped in that section of the plane. The seats of the airplane had been ripped from the floorboards; luggage and debris covered the remaining passengers making it difficult for rescue workers to reach them.
Without regard for his own safety, Officer Cunningham ran into the burning tail of the plane without any protective gear. He cleared a path for rescue workers to reach the remaining passengers and began carrying passengers to safety, not stopping until the last passenger was removed.
According to his former commanding officer Albert Pardini, “Officer Cunningham was in the midst of a disaster and immediately went into action. He had sufficient time to assess the situation and make the decision to approach the aircraft—which could have easily exploded into a ball of fire—so he could rescue the passengers and crew.”
“Officer Cunningham relied on his training and immediately sprang into action to save lives,” said Memorial Fund Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Craig W. Floyd. “Without regard for his safety, Officer Cunningham ran toward danger to rescue stranded passengers from a burning airplane. His actions are deserving of our 2015 May Officer of the Month Award.”
Located in the nation’s capital, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s law enforcement officers. The Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month Award Program began in 1996 and recognizes federal, state, and local officers who distinguish themselves through exemplary law enforcement service and devotion to duty.
Officer James Cunningham, along with the other Officer of the Month Award recipients for 2015, will be honored at a special awards ceremony in Washington, DC, in May 2016, during National Police Week.
The Police Unity Tour is the official sponsor of the Memorial Fund’s Officer of the Month Program.