“My cell phone saved my life,” Maes said in a Monday Defense Department press release.
Maes and two other soldiers fell asleep in the tank last year after a week-long training exercise in Europe. They woke up to find the tank speeding down a hill.
There was a hydraulic leak in the 65-ton M1A2 Abrams tank and it was going about 90 miles per hour. The operational systems weren’t responding, either.
“We realized there was nothing else we could do and just held on,” Maes said in the release.
Gunner Sgt. Aechere Crump was bleeding badly from a cut on her thigh, and driver Pfc. Victor Alamo suffered a broken back.
But Maes was determined to help, so he amputated his own leg.
“I pushed and pulled at my leg as hard as I could to get loose and felt a sharp tear,” Maes said. “I thought I had dislodged my leg, but when I moved away, my leg was completely gone.
“I knew I was going into shock,” he said. “All I could think about was no one knows we’re down here. Either I step up or we all die.”
While radio communications were down, Maes was able to text for help using the only phone that survived the crash. Luckily, it also had service.
“If I didn’t help myself, my crew, no one was going to,” Maes added. “I knew I had to do everything I could to survive.”
Despite losing a leg, Maes said he feels “super lucky.”
“My crew all does. So many things could have gone wrong. Besides my leg, we all walked away pretty much unscathed,” he said.
Amazingly, Maes is keeping a positive attitude about the whole situation.
“When something like this happens, it’s easy to give up because your life won’t be the same, and you’re not wrong,” he said. “Life will take a 180, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Don’t let it hinder you from moving forward.”
Maes is now assigned to the Brooke Army Medical Center Warrior Transition Battalion at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
He now hopes to help other people who’ve lost their limbs by becoming a prosthetist.