A QUICK-thinking former American football player has been hailed as a hero after he caught a toddler who was tossed from a burning building.
Retired US Marine Phillip Blanks was at home when he heard a commotion outside his flat in Arizona and dashed out to check out the noise.
The 28-year-old raced outside barefoot last Friday to find a mother and her young son trapped on the patio of their burning apartment.
The mum was covered in flames and moments later she flung her son to safety over the balcony.
“He was twirling in the air like a propeller,” he told WABC on Wednesday.
“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.”
That’s when Blanks put his athletic talents to use and dove to catch the three-year-old boy.
“Instinct. There wasn’t much thinking. I just reacted. I just did it,” he said.
Blanks credits his decision-making skills to his altruistic upbringing and his time playing wide receiver at Saddleback College in California.
“I know how to catch,” he said.
“I learned how to catch a football. So I’ll give some credit to football.”
Firefighters rushed to the apartment in Phoenix but the woman, who KPNX said was identified was Rachel Long, was tragically found dead.
Long’s son, Jamison survived the drop, but the mum died after going back into the burning apartment to save her daughter Roxanne, according to the description for a GoFundMe created for the family.
“She’s the real hero of the story because she made the ultimate sacrifice to save her children.” Blanks said.
Corey Long, Rachel’s husband, is now homeless, according to the GoFundMe.
He has been forced to shoulder the costs of Roxanne’s eight surgeries as their two children remain hospitalized, according to the GoFundMe.
“Eyewitnesses stated that Rachel was on fire at that time, but rather than jumping herself to safety, she went back in for her daughter Roxanne and sadly, did not return,” the description reads.