On September 14, 2015 in Manteo, NC - A plane crashed into the Croatan Sound near the Dare County Regional Airport on Monday evening at 4:30 p.m. The pilot, Jenny Hawk, wound up in critical condition. The question was would life give her a second chance?
One of the services Ms. Hawk, owner of OBX Airplanes, provided was banner towing. The business is located along the North Carolina coastal area which attracts a lot of tourists who vacation there. Banner towing is a great way for local businesses to get the word out about their businesses. On this fateful day - September 14, 2015 - Ms. Hawk was in the process of picking up a banner (something she had done numerous times before) when the tow rope got tangled up with the airplanes elevator. It quickly became apparent to her that the airplane was going to crash into the bay and the only thing she could do is stay calm and hope for the best. After impact with the water she was quickly rescued by first responders and taken by a Dare MedFlight helicopter to Norfolk for treatment.
The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Streaking towards the water, she wrestled for control and then realized - calmly she says - this was the end.
“I was like, this sucks. This really sucks. And I knew my mom was standing watching,”
says Hawk. She never thought she would survive it.
“Oh, yeah. I knew I wasn`t going to. There is no way you can hit the water going 120 and survive. There`s no way,”
says Hawk. The plane was about 50 feet from the departure end of the runway when it impacted the water. Fortunately the water was shallow and the pilot was quickly removed from the aircraft and flown to the hospital for treatment. It turned out that the injuries were much worse than originally thought. Remarkably, Jenny survived. Police at first said she suffered just cuts and bruises. But in reality, it was far worse. She spent weeks in the hospital, much of that time in critical condition, and endured several surgeries. Her doctor put it bluntly.
“He said, you crushed your face. I`m like, oh, I am lucky I don`t have brain damage. He says, you`re lucky you`re alive,”
says Hawk. It's been months since the crash. She's back in Manteo now, and most days, at her hangar. Her return delighted hundreds who followed her progress on a Facebook page.
“I`m really fortunate for the friends and family that I have. And the people that are just willing to help. It`s like having a fan club,”
says Hawk. NewsChannel 3's Mike Mather flew with Hawk for a story back in 2013, and subsequently decided to learn to fly and chose Jenny to be her instructor. He has flown with Hawk and he describes her as kind and patient. Witnesses at the scene say it looks like the banner cables were caught in the plane's elevator. It's a question that unfurls in Hawk's mind like the advertising banners she lifted into the Manteo breeze. Jenny earns a living in the Outer Banks sky, tugging airborne ads, giving thrill rides, even teaching people like NewsChannel 3's Mike Mather to fly. She grew her business from a single Cessna into a high-flying fleet of airplanes criss-crossing the barrier islands. And then one day she hurtled out of control, she conceded it was all over. And she prepared to die. In the middle of September at the controls of her red-and-white Citabria, Jenny dove to snatch a banner from the grass. She's done it a thousand times. But the tow rope got caught in the plane's tail. When the hook snagged the banner and pulled the line tight, that snapped down the plane's elevator. Hawk says she knew what was happening. Streaking towards the water, she wrestled for control and then realized - calmly she says - this was the end. “I was like, this sucks. This really sucks. And I knew my mom was standing here,” says Hawk. This is normally the part of the story where a reporter ties it up with a sappy ending, where the subject of the story has some epiphany about the meaning of second chances. In truth, Jenny doesn't know what this means. She's still working long hours. She's still flying, although she hasn't flown by herself since the crash. But she is more grateful for everything she has.
“And if you look at pictures of the airplane when it was in the hangar upside down, and you look in the cockpit, nobody should have ever survived. So, I owe the world something. I need to do something really cool,”
says Hawk. Or maybe, she's already doing something really cool. She helped the reporter Mike Mather realize a life-long dream. And she helps people like Alicia, just starting her flying career, realize that the sky is not the limit. It's just a good place to start.
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Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch!
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