FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Not everyone gets to ride with the Thunderbirds, but it’s how the U.S. Air Force decided to honor a woman credited with saving lives after, police said, a man opened fire inside of a Broward County Transit bus.
Gwendolyn Whitfield’s quick-thinking near the Fort Lauderdale Police station on March 17 saved has earned her a touching tribute, Friday.
7News cameras captured the bus driver as she became the passenger of a United States Air Force F-16 plane.
“I’m excited to be experiencing it. I mean, it’s an experience of a life time so I’m very grateful,” she said.
According to Fort Lauderdale Police, a gunman opened fire inside Whitfield’s transit bus. The suspect fired more than 20 times, which led to the driver’s quick action.
She swerved into oncoming traffic and into the parking lot of the police station. The gunman was then quickly arrested.
Two passengers died and two were injured.
“Her quick actions as a driver no doubt saved a lot of lives during that tragic incident,” said Fort Lauderdale Air Show Director Chris Dirato.
The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are headlining the 2022 Fort Lauderdale Air Show. Every year they hold event, organizers honor a local hero, and there was no question that Whitfiled was deserving of the honor.
Whitfield was briefed before taking flight and then was suited up. With gear and helmet on, it was time to get onto the tarmac, where she was then met by applause and many high-fives.
Whitfield has a fear of heights and motion sickness, but that didn’t stop her from going on the plane, although she decided to stay close to the ground.
“I think she had a great time,” said Dirato. “She got a good look of what’s involved with the team and what the pilots go through, and sort of the behind-the-scenes look of what the Thunderbirds are all about.”
“I gotta tell you, this has been the highlight of my weekend,” said a U.S. Air Force Maj. Jacob Impellizzeri.
Impellizzeri honored Whitfield’s heroic actions with a hug and a plaque.
“This is an honor. I mean, to get to be around people like this, I’m just grateful and thankful,” said Whitfield.
The 2022 Fort Lauderdale Air Show gets underway on Fort Lauderdale beginning Saturday at around 11 a.m. For more information on tickets and weekend road closures, click here.
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