Having the strength to keep riding

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rebecca Imwalle
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
In a community where riding motorcycles peaks in popularity, motorcyclists fully know the risks that come with riding, but not many think they will face a life-threatening injury.

Staff Sgt. Bobby Pantfoeder, Ellsworth Honor Guard NCO in charge, is living proof that simple protective measures can be the deciding factor in determining one's fate.

"The last thing I remember is leaving the last place we had stopped that day," Pantfoeder said. "Then I woke up in a hospital bed."

Little did he know he had just survived a major motorcycle accident, requiring him to be airlifted to Rapid City Regional Hospital and go through multiple procedures. Due to the extreme shock that Pantfoeder was in, he does not recall any details of the accident. All he knows is what was told to him secondhand by members of the Green Knights, a motorcycle group at Ellsworth, that were with him on that Memorial Day weekend ride.

"We were in the middle of a turn," Pantfoeder said. "All of a sudden I hit a bump in the road which threw me toward an oncoming truck. By the time my body made it to the truck, it had [nearly] come to a complete stop. My face came in contact with his tire, or the cattle guard, and caused me to break five bones in my face."

Senior Master Sgt. Danny Walker, 28th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels management flight chief and president of the Green Knights, has been riding for 32 years and has known Pantfoeder for more than three years.

"My initial instinct was, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Walker said. "As the accident unfolded, I thought there was no way he could survive such a crash. I thought he was dead for sure."

During the crash, the fall of Pantfoeders' motorcycle caused another rider to crash.
"In my 32 years of riding, I have seen many motorcycle crashes on TV and at racetracks around the country," Walker said. "I've even been involved in several motorcycle accidents myself, but I had never seen two friends go down right in front of me like that."

Walker added that once the ambulance arrived, all bystanders and those helping tend to the victims all breathed a sigh of relief.

"We had been providing first aid the best we could," Walker said. "Once the medics arrived, I felt like things were going to be OK."

Due to the multiple breaks in his face, Pantfoeder underwent 12 hours of surgery to repair the injuries.

"My facial reconstruction doctor said I was in the top three on his list of the worst he has ever seen," Pantfoeder said. "My entire face would shift with the movement of my teeth because of all the broken bones."

Pantfoeder urges all motorcyclists to wear proper protective gear and double check and ensure all military records and motorcycle classes are up to date.

"You need to make sure you have all your motorcycle briefings and classes," Pantfoeder said. "Not only does it give you information to keep you safe, it will help you avoid legal troubles after an accident. Had I not done everything I did, it was possible all the bills would have fallen on me."

Though no fines were distributed - Pantfoeder estimates the cost of his surgery and fees to be more than $50,000. He attributes his survival to his protective gear. He explained that when he rides, he wears boots that cover the ankle, jeans or thick pants, a long sleeve shirt, vest, helmet and safety glasses.

"My safety gear saved my life," Pantfoeder said. "I almost had no road rash, the helmet was blood covered and had a huge graze across the side... had I not been wearing it, I would have died."

Pantfoeder advises people that though there are many lessons that can be learned from, that should stop them from enjoying it. It doesn't mean that it will necessarily happen to you, but it's important to accept the fact that it could.

"I know there will be a little bit more cautiousness when I get back on my bike," Pantfoeder said. "But I'm never going to be scared of it... That's the last thing I want. It was a freak accident; it can happen to anybody, anywhere."

Pantfoeder added how grateful he is to come out of the situation as he did.

"I never thought something like this would happen to me," Pantfoeder said. "In the three years I've been riding, I've never had a bad experience or even a small wreck on a motorcycle. So it's very humbling to know that you survived something that many people don't."