Ryan W. Miller, USA TODAY
Published 8:16 a.m. ET July 9, 2020
A former football player caught a 3-year-old boy thrown from a burning third-floor apartment balcony in Phoenix.
Phillip Blanks caught countless passes in his career as a wide receiver. None could have been as great as his diving grab last week.
As a fire raged through a Phoenix apartment building on July 3, Blanks said his instincts kicked in as a mother dropped her toddler from the balcony to save his life.
“Ultimately, this is my job,” Blanks, a former Marine who now works as a body guard, told MLive.com. “It was all fast, it was a blur. It was tunnel vision as I was running. I didn’t see anything but the baby.”
Heart-wrenching video of the save shows Blanks, 28, rush in and dive to grab the child just before he nearly hit the gravel below the balcony. The 3-year-old and an 8-year-old girl survived the flames but were hospitalized with injuries. The children’s mother died in the fire.
Blanks told KABC-TV that he heard a commotion outside last Friday when he went to look, not even taking the time to grab his shoes.
When he realized there was a fire, he saw the child was about to be thrown and knew he had to swoop in.
“He was twirling in the air like a propeller,” he told the TV station. “I just did my best. His head landed perfectly on my elbow. His ankle got twisted up as I was diving. The guy who was there with me — it looked like he wasn’t going to catch him. So that’s why I stepped in. I just wanted to make a better catch.”
Blanks played high school football at Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan then Kalamazoo Valley College before heading to Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California.
He also served in the Marines and told the Washington Post that his training taught him to “always be on high alert, not be complacent and to have discipline.” His profile on Saddleback College’s website says he served in 12 countries after high school.
According to the Post, the 8-year-old child caught in the fire was also saved by a heroic bystander.
D’Artagnan Alexander, 42, was heading to a plaza where he works as a barber when he heard screams.
“I have a 3-year-old and a 9-year-old, so when I heard there were kids in there, that really hit my heart,” Alexander told the Post.
The man rushed into the building and headed up the stairs to the third floor, where he said he found the young girl on the floor. “Everything happened so fast,” he told the newspaper. “I didn’t have time to think, my body just kicked into action and I went in.”
Police and fire officials were investigating the cause of the flames but said there was no reason to believe foul play was involved.
Blanks praised the mother who saved her children as the “real hero of the story,” he told KABC-TV.
“She made the ultimate sacrifice to save her children.”
Contributing: BrieAnna J. Frank and Emily Wilder, Arizona Republic
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