Nebraska man, 74, rescued from burning van in rural Minnesota - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

Nebraska man, 74, rescued from burning van in rural Minnesota

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COMFREY, Minn. (KMSP) -

Two farmers working in some fields near Comfrey, Minn., saved a Nebraska man they had never met from a burning van on Sunday evening.

According to the Brown County Sheriff's Office, 74-year-old Lance Johnson, of Wymore, Neb., was driving south on 400th Avenue when he went off the road and into a ditch before his van caught fire in a field.

Nick Rients and Stetson Shoen were working nearby and rushed to help.

"I saw smoke kind of trailing down the road," Rients said.

Rients immediately stopped combining soy beans and called Shoen, who was plowing corn, and the two rushed to find the flames.

"The car was on fire and I noticed there was a man in there," Rients said.

At first, the two tried to put out the fire with their fire extinguishers. It didn't do the job, but it did buy them time.

"The smoke was coming across so bad that you couldn't see nothing," he recalled. "When I got to him, the van was full of smoke and all I could see was his head."

Though Shoen admits he was a little worried about what he was walking toward, he didn't hesitate to try to rescue the man inside. 

"I never put two and two together that the van was on fire and I was risking my own life," he said. "I just ran up."

Shoen grabbed his knife and cut away the seat belt restraining Johnson. The two then pulled Johnson out just in the nick of time. 

"By the time we carried him over and laid him down, we both looked back and that van was completely engulfed," Shoen said.

Looking at the wreckage of the van, it's hard to believe Johnson survived -- and his nephew told FOX 9 News the bravery of strangers means so much to Johnson's family.

"They've done something truly special and amazing for the whole family and a whole bunch of people," Scott Johnson said.

While the two rescuers say they don't really feel like heroes, they certainly say it feels good to know that they helped.

"I'm glad that I wasn't hurt, but had I gotten injured a little bit and still saved this man, I would have been fine with it," Rients said.

Johnson, who had been returning from his cabin in Brainerd when he crashed, was taken to Springfield Hospital, then airlifted to Regions Hospital in St. Paul with severe leg burns. He is expected to make a full recovery, and has already called his rescuers to thank them; however, he hopes to thank them in person in the near future. 

According to investigators, either leaking oil or transmission fluid caused the van to start on fire.

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