He stopped to get a closer look at a protest sign.
Because of that, Craig Schum found himself in the right place at the right time Sunday -- pulling an unconscious woman from a burning single-engine plane moments after it crashed on takeoff from East Hampton Town Airport.
"All of that cliche . . . is true," Schum, 33, a bread baker from Brooklyn, said Monday. "I didn't think. There was no time to think. I don't know what I was thinking."
Barefoot, he ran several hundred yards, pulled passenger Kim Brillo from the burning low-wing Mooney M20 C that had crashed and carried the woman several hundred yards to safety.
East Hampton Town police Chief Edward V. Ecker Jr. credited Schum and three others Monday with rescuing Brillo and pilot Steve Bochter, 51, of Assonet, Mass.
"They probably saved their lives," Ecker said.
Schum does not think he should be called a hero.
"No false modesty," Schum told Newsday, "but the story should be that these two people survived . . . . That's amazing."
Bochter and Brillo were in stable condition at Stony Brook University Hospital on Monday. The extent of their injuries was not known.
Schum, who grew up in Rochester and was a jazz major at SUNY-New Paltz, said he had just returned to New York after six months of surfing in Hawaii. He had previously worked for Levain Bakery -- and came to bake bread for the summer at its bakery in Wainscott. He was driving from the bakery to the house where he's renting a room for the summer in a borrowed Jeep when he saw a woman holding a sign.
It turned out, Schum said, the woman had been riding past the scene on a bicycle moments earlier when she stopped and decided to join the protest against airport noise.
Schum wasn't interested in joining the protest, just interested in finding out what the sign said. He just happened to be talking when: "Boom. There's this huge explosion behind us."
Schum scaled the deer fence that surrounds the airfield to reach the crash site.
What he saw shocked him.
He said Bochter was outside the plane -- and in a daze.
Brillo was unconscious in the passenger seat.
"I thought she was dead," he said.
Schum said he knew that first responders are not supposed to move a victim -- in case there's a spinal injury.
But, he said, the plane was already on fire. "And then the pilot -- and, he was in a daze -- but then he said, 'And we're full of fuel,' " Schum said.
Schum said that while one of the other passers-by guided Bochter away from the scene, he grabbed Brillo and carried her. He already knew her first name. He said he'd heard Bochter ask about "Kim."
"I felt like I carried this woman about 20 feet back out to the road," Schum said. "Apparently, it was like 300 or 500 yards -- something like that . . . I thought I was carrying a dead woman. . . . She was totally covered in blood. I'm covered in her blood. I put her down and was trying to will her back when one of the medics came up and they pushed me out of the way and went to work."
He said it was only when he saw Brillo move slightly that he knew she was really alive.
Schum said that three times this summer he helped swimmers from rough surf in the Hamptons, including a kite surfer who appeared to be in trouble. But this was different.
He said he plans to stop by the hospital to check on Bochter and Brillo. "I just want to give this girl a hug," he said. "To know that she's OK, really OK."
He started to cry.