Army Spc. Ezra Maes and two other soldiers fell asleep in their tank last year after a weeklong training exercise in Europe. When he woke up, the vehicle was speeding down a hill.
"I called out to the driver, 'Step on the brakes!'" the armor crewman recalled in an Army news release. But the parking brake had failed. And when the crew tried to use emergency braking procedures, the vehicle kept moving.
The 65-ton M1A2 Abrams tank had a hydraulic leak. The operational systems weren't responding, and the tank was speeding down the hill at about 90 mph.
"We realized there was nothing else we could do and just held on," Maes said in the release.
The tank slammed into an embankment, throwing Maes across the vehicle. His leg caught in the turret gear, and he thought it was broken.
Sgt. Aechere Crump, the gunner, was bleeding badly from a cut on her thigh, and Pfc. Victor Alamo, the driver, suffered a broken back. He was pinned down, the release states.
Determined to get to the other soldiers to assist with their injuries, Maes said he began tugging his leg to free it.
"But when I moved away, my leg was completely gone," he said.
He was losing blood fast, but said he pushed his pain and panic aside. He headed to the back of the tank to find the medical kit. Lightheaded, he knew his body was going into shock. But all he could think about was that no one knew they were down there, he said.
"Either I step up or we all die," Maes said.
The soldier began shock procedures on himself, according to the release, forcing himself to remain calm, keep his heart rate down and elevate his lower body. He used his own belt to form a makeshift tourniquet.
Crump, the gunner with the bad cut on her thigh, did the same. Her other leg was broken.
They tried to radio for help, but the system wasn't working. Then, Maes' cell phone rang. It was the only phone that survived the crash, and it was picking up service.
Crump was able to reach the phone and pass it to Maes, who fired off a text message. The crew had spent the week in Slovakia, which borders Poland and Ukraine, during Exercise Atlantic Resolve.
The last thing Maes remembers from the crash site was his sergeant major running up the hill with his leg on his shoulder. They tried to save it, but it was too damaged.
The specialist was flown by helicopter to a local hospital. From there, he went to Landstuhl, Germany.
He's now undergoing physical and occupational therapy at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. He's awaiting surgery to receive a new type of prosthetic leg that will be directly attached to his remaining limb.
Despite the devastating injury, the 21-year-old said he and his crew "feel super lucky."
"So many things could have gone wrong," he said in the release. "Besides my leg, we all walked away pretty much unscathed."
The soldier now hopes to become a prosthetist to help other people who've lost their limbs.