By People Staff
December 20, 1993 12:00 PM

ON MARCH 22, 1992, FREDRIC Nickell and Jimmy May became heroes. That night, around 9:30, USAir Flight 405 crashed after takeoff at New York’s LaGuardia Airport and plunged into Flushing Bay. Nickell, who was driving a lavatory pump truck, and May, behind the wheel of a baggage cart, raced to the scene and, braving flaming jet fuel, pulled dazed survivors from the frigid waters.

Their actions did not go unnoticed. Two months later the Federal Aviation Administration cited them for “selfless concern for the preservation of human life.”

Last month, unfortunately, Nickell and May, both 54, discovered that heroism is no shelter against the cold winds of corporate cost-cutting. On Nov. 12, the USAir Shuttle laid off both men, along with 85 of their coworkers. Nickell and May—who have 57 years of airline-industry service between them—were within a year of early retirement. Now, unrepresented by a union since August 1992, they have few job prospects and, with their coworkers, spend their days picketing the USAir Shuttle. “This is a total disruption of everything we have worked for for the past 25 years,” says Nickell.

A USAir Shuttle spokesman says the 87 were fired because the company wanted “an optimized cost-efficient operation.” Their work will now be done by an outside contractor who can do I more cheaply, says Terry Hallcom, manager of the shuttle. (USAir manages the former Trump Shuttle for Citicorp and about 20 other banks that acquired it when Donald Trump defaulted on $380 million in 1991.) “The shuttle management needed to cut jobs to cut costs,” says Citicorp spokeswoman Amy Dates. “We at Citicorp have gone through our own restructuring but have also gotten through it.”

Nickell and May, both married and with grown children, disagree that their $33,000-a-year jobs needed cutting. “We had the experience,” Nickell says. “Profit is the bottom line for them.”