I survived a plane crash [AMA]
Update: Thank you for the gold! Wow. This really grew overnight. Back in June of 2013, I was piloting a light sport aircraft across the country along with a good friend who was also a pilot and my instructor. While almost to our destination at night, the engine quit over the terrain of Texas which includes canyons, valleys, hills, and any other extreme terrain. At night, the terrain is invisible. No light illuminates the ground. After gliding for what seemed like eternity, the aircraft impacted in a canyon after deploying a ballistic parachute. The force of the impact was enough to compress my spine, destroying my back and paralyzing my older instructor below his hips. The aircraft continued to travel 1.7 miles across the ground before stopping on a barbed wire fence. My instructor did not survive. So this is my story. Proof: http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/current/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/brief.aspx?ev_id=20130611X40901&key=1 Proof 2: http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=156526 I am the commercial pilot who lived. Ask me anything. Proof 3: http://i.imgur.com/SrDHnWO.jpg Proof 4: http://i.imgur.com/kKHotqQ.jpg FULL STORY HERE!! Didn't realize this would grab attention. Thank you. ON THE GROUND, JUST THE BEGINNING: The aircraft impacted the ground around 12:30am. Emergency first responders didn't get to us until 4am. Now within that 3 and a half hours, a lot occurred. After the plane hit, the winds on the ground continued to blow the parachute which dragged the aircraft backwards for 1.7 miles. The impacted was intense. As soon as we hit, it was instant pain to my back. Most extreme pain I've ever felt. It was like jumping off a two story house and landing flat on my bottom. It completely knocked the air out of me and I was unconscious. Now the terrain was not flat. We are talking canyons, valleys, hills, and gullies. The winds were strong enough to pull us up and down these valleys and hills. We skipped off the Earth like a rock across the water. Getting airborne again and again. Each impact unknowingly harder and harder. Not knowing where we were going was the scariest part. I really thought eventually the plane would fall and we would be killed from the impacted. But suddenly the plane stopped. At that moment, we decided to bail out. Knowing my back could no longer handle the pounding, I unbuckled my harness and so did he even though he complained he couldn't feel his legs. But once I got my door unlatched, I harnessed all my energy to lift myself out. And as soon as I attempted to get out, the plane lifted off the ground from the blowing winds. I fell to the ground but soon realized my instructor was not with me. I was laying face down in the sand unable to breathe or move from the pain. Eventually, I found strength to get on my feet. OUT OF THE PLANE: I was lying on my belly, face in the sand. I could tell I was on the side of a hill from the down sloping grade. In the background, I could hear the sound of the aircraft crunching against the rocky terrain. The wind was blowing so hard. At this point, I knew I had done some really bad damage to my back. Breathing was very difficult and everything in my back felt like someone stabbing me over and over. At this point, I contemplated just lying here and giving up. Let the darkness take me. But I quickly realized that this isn't over for me. My instructor suddenly caught my attention. He was still in the aircraft on that roller coaster of death. Laying on my stomach, I tried pushing myself up with my arms but my whole body bent at my spine. That didn't feel good. So I rolled over. On my back, very uncomfortable and in a lot of pain, I put one foot underneath me and mustered my way onto my feet. TO MY FEET: Now standing up, I really got a look at what I was up against. The terrain was incredibly rough. All around me were rocks and deep valleys. But I could only see as far as my night vision would allow. Off in the distance, I could hear the plane crashing along with the fierce winds blowing past my ears. So I started to walk with the winds. In the direction of my instructor. Let me tell you, walking with a broken back in rough terrain is not ideal. My progress was probably slower than my grandma trying to walk up the stairs. My breathing was terrible. Completely unable to take a full breath. After tackling going down the valley, I took a break. And then going up was the most difficult. Apparently Texas is known for their thick bushes. I had no time to find my way around them so I went through. Big mistake. The pants I was wearing soon became shredded and my legs began to bleed. At this point, my adrenaline has kicked in. LITTLE HOPE: So I continued to walk into the night not really seeing where I was going. All I was doing was following the winds and listening for the aircraft. I was becoming extremely dehydrated and my mouth was severely dry. It was still very warm. As I got to the top of a hill, I could see the aircraft. It was stuck in a valley against a bush. So I quickened my pace and started yelling out to my instructor. I was pleading for him to get out of the aircraft in fear that the winds would carry the plane further. With no response from him, I felt the winds pick up from behind and grab the parachute. That parachute lifted into the air like a kite and pulled the aircraft through the bush and up the valley. Faster than I could chase after. At that moment, I fell to my knees. I wanted to die. I wanted to give up. I had to idea when it would all end. I pleaded for death. I remember asking if there was a God, please take my life now. The exhaustion had set in and the pain was growing thicker. But then for some reason, I started thinking about my life and how I still had so much to accomplish. So much to live for. I didn't want my life to be over. So I got back on my feet and continued hiking. FINDING MY INSTRUCTOR: Back on my feet, I walked in a daze. At times my eyes aren't even open. I was so exhausted. The one thing keeping me going was my instructor. I had to get him out. But now the plane was out of sight. No where to be seen. I couldn't even hear anything, the winds were so deafening. I'm staring at the ground when I find a piece of the composite from the aircraft. That gave me a boost of motivation. I was catching up or at least going the right way. At the top of a hill, I saw down below the aircraft. It had stopped except this time it was snagged on something. And I could hear the rattling as I got closer. The parachute had pulled the plane into a barbed wire fence and it was doing everything it could to rip it off. Finally. I caught him. I tried calling to him from afar but didn't get an answer. Maybe he didn't hear me. But as I approached the plane, I suddenly saw his condition inside the cockpit. He was stretched out across both seats with his face down in the right seat and his legs dangling outside the aircraft towards the top of the wings suspended somehow. The lighting was terrible so I didn't get a good look at first. I quickly approached his side and after opening his door, he began cry out for my help. He kept pleading me to make it stop. I tried telling him the plane was stuck and not going anywhere but that damn parachute was still tugging and lifting the nose off the ground. I had a brilliant idea that I would catch the parachute and bring it down. Not very bright... HELPLESSNESS: I decided to climb over the barbed wired fence, miraculously. The parachute was swinging back and forth very high above me. Way out of my reach. The Kevlar rope leading to it was so tight and tense that I couldn't even move it. Tighter than a guitar string. I witnessed the winds die down and the parachute fall to the ground so I quickly tried to grab it. As I'm holding on to it and trying to pull it together, the winds start blowing and completely rip it out of my hands. It sends me down to the ground. I'm only 165 lbs so I knew my tiny body had no chance against this beast. So I return to my instructor knowing he needed my assistance. As I approach him, he is moaning in pain and tells me he can't breathe. With his face down in the bottom of the seat, I quickly searched for a cushion I knew we had brought along for additional padding. With the cushion in hand, I brace his neck and lift his head out of the seat placing the cushion underneath. I knew that wouldn't be very helpful after seeing his condition. His body was twisted. His chest was facing towards the tail of the plane while his hips were facing forward. His arms were broken in several places and tangled in the cable wiring. Yet he kept asking me to pull him out. I tried explaining my back was broken but without hesitation, I attempted to lift him out. He was so heavy. I had no strength to even move him. And I feared hurting him even more. At that moment, I switched to survival mode. SURVIVAL: Switching to survival mode meant finding help. I had no idea where we were. Our location felt isolated from civilization. I could see no lighting. Only the sides of canyons and hills. I knew too that no one knew we were out here. Our emergency transmission on 121.5 was never heard and the ELT didn't give much hope. It could take hours for anyone to find us. During the flight, I was using my phone to take pictures and the battery had completely drained. Besides, I could not find my phone within the wreckage after I did a quick search blindly in the dark. At that point, I knew I had to leave the wreckage to go find help. I was becoming extremely dehydrated and could no longer think straight. Exhaustion and the pain were adding up quickly. I had a bad feeling my instructor didn't have much time either. FINDING HELP: The barbed wire fence caught my attention. It was my sign of someone's property. I mean someone had to build it. So I followed that fence until I found a dirt road. On this dirt path, I could see a metal windmill off in the distance. I don't know why, but I thought that might be high enough to give me a better view of my surroundings if I could climb it. I took the path until I had no more direct route and headed back into the vegetation towards my observation point. I'm pretty sure this far into the night, I started hallucinating. I became paranoid that some predator was out to attack me. I must have looked like an easy meal. So I quickened my pace to the windmill and when I approached it, I didn't hesitate to climb. If I could get off the ground, the predator surely couldn't get me, right? OFF THE GROUND AGAIN: I began to climb this windmill to the top. It had a stepping ladder which made it easier. Though my process was very slow and tiring. Once I made it to the top, I just looked out into the night. I was looking for lights or signs of any buildings. But the only thing I could see were lights very far off in the distance. I began thinking in my head how long would it take me to get there if I ran. For me to run, I was truly kidding myself. I soon came to the realization that staying with the aircraft was my best option. At this point, I had another moment of just giving up. I wanted to just let go of the windmill and end it all. It would surely end the nightmare I was going through. WRECKAGE SUPPLIES: No end in sight, my time on top of the windmill was short. Holding on to the metal frame became tiring. So I proceeded to climb down. Once back on the ground, I knew I had to get back to the wreckage. At that moment, I thought about our supplies. What did we have in the aircraft that would be useful? My phone was dead. No way to call for help. And I knew I had my backpack which held my laptop, my phone charger, and some clothes. The airplane also had two water bottles, two flashlights, and all my personal belongings such as my wallet, phone, and pilot logbook. So I made my way back to the aircraft by mimicking the same path I took. Once I found the barbed wire fence, I followed it to the wreckage. Immediately, I went to my instructor to check on him. He made sure he knew I was still with him. He was still in a lot of pain and kept telling me how sorry he was for all of this to happen. I kept telling him everything will be alright. We will get help soon. All I wanted to do was comfort him the best I could even though I knew what I was telling him was a lie. I went back around to my side of the aircraft where I started to feel around. I immediately found a water bottle from the shining water reflecting the little moonlight. It was nearly full. I quickly took some big gulps from it but then started to conserve it. I didn't know how long we would be out here. All the while, my instructor is complaining of the pain. I brought water over to him thinking it would help but he said he couldn't breathe. I tried again to position his head up, carefully, to get it out of the bucket seat. No success. He wasn't budging. FINDING HELP, NO PHONE: The next thing I searched for was my laptop. I had this great idea to use my laptop battery to charge my dead iPhone. I had the USB cord to do it. I found my backpack in the baggage area and pulled my laptop out. It had been damaged and the battery had popped out but I shoved that back in and turned it on. The screen illuminated the ground and realized that this light could be used for inside the cockpit. As I shined my laptop inside, I found both flashlights, the other water and that's when I really saw the damage. The belly of the aircraft was completely missing and my instructor was really twisted. His legs were suspended in the air but I couldn't find out why until I used the flashlight to illuminated his legs. The parachute rope was somehow wrapped around his ankles and was pulling so tightly that it was cutting into his skin. It had obviously broken his bone. The entire parachute pulling the aircraft was being pulled by my instructor's ankles. I had no way to cut the Kevlar rope. It was too strong. Knowing I was useless to help him, I continued my mission to find rescue. I plugged my phone into my laptop to start charging it but my laptop kept turning off. I didn't understand why. It was so frustrating but I later found out that the CPU heatsink had came off the CPU itself and sand had entered. The laptop was overheating and shutting itself off. So my phone never charged. FINDING A PHONE: I chucked my laptop out of the way. It was useless. I was so angry at the situation and the pain growing in my back. My phone was our only way to get rescued and it was dead. At this point, I sat down. Biggest mistake. Once I relaxed, my adrenaline stopped. My mobility almost came to a halt. All I could do was crawl. I knew my instructor had his phone so I searched for it with my flashlight. I even asked him if he had it in his pocket but he said no. I searched anyways. Carefully sticking my hand in his torn pants. No sign of it at all. My mind had been racing as to where it could have gone. I looked everywhere in the wreckage. The one thing I thought could have happened to his phone is that it fell out of the aircraft along the 1.7 mile drag. But I knew, too, that I had no strength to walk that distance and search for a phone in the sand. It would be like finding a needle in a haystack. I began to cry. I remember my father telling me crying never solved my problems but crying was all that was left. I had tried and failed. My strength and will to go on was diminishing. I kept thinking we were going to die out here. But my instructor pulled my thoughts away from myself and back on him. He started coughing and grunting. He said he was dying. I made my way over to his side. He told me to lift his head up so he could breathe. I kept trying to lift but his head wasn't staying where I wanted it. I used whatever strength I had left. I pushed through the pain screaming. With his body up a little, I was able to free one his arms and below him, his phone slid out. CALLING 911: As soon as I found the phone, I turned it on. The time was 2:09am. The battery percentage was 64% and there was one cellphone signal bar. He had the iPhone 5 so without unlocking his phone, I dialed 911. I held the phone to my ear and after 5 seconds of silence, I heard ringing. Operator: "911. What is your emergency?" I got through. Me: "Hello?! Yes! We were in a plane crash and need help immediately! I don't know where we are but somewhere in the panhandle of Texas!". Operator: "I'm sorry, did you say you were in a plane crash?!" Me: "Yes, we were in a plane crash, and we need help now! My friend is in really bad shape!" Operator: "Can you please tell me your name and where you are at?" Me: "My name is Zachary Jenkins and I don't know where I am at! <--- My name is in the reports if you read them. Operator: "Okay Zachary, and who did you say is with you?" Me: "My instructor. His name is ..." The call drops. Me: Hello? Hello!?