On june 19th, 1993, I was on the Eastern coast of Honduras with my two best friends Mike, Lyle and Ana; my girlfriend and interpreter. We planned to leave that morning to fly up the coast and then turn inland to the capitol, Tegucigalpa. We left early that morning under clear skys about the same time as one of the local missionary supply planes left. We ended up village hopping along side the plane for a while and It was great to have some company over the jungle. After flying to a few villages together they went on their way and we continued to Trujillo, a small village along the north shore of Honduras.
It was cramped and very hot inside the Cesna 180. We had brought a lot of supplies with us. I was sitting in the copilot seat but I do not know how to fly, so we had removed the controls from my side of the plane. Lyle was the pilot, Ana sat behind him and Mike was behind me. When we wanted to speak to each other we had to shout over the noise of the engine so there was not a lot of conversation. The view was beautiful and we were circling the small village huts along the way. All the natives came out and waved at us when we flew over. Its not too common for a plane to fly so low over them. Lyle enjoyed it so much. At times we were only 10 yards or so off the ground.
After a few hours we arrived at Trujillo, which is a small village with a few Americans there. I had been there just a week before and I knew there was an American owned restaurant . I couldnt wait to eat some good food again. Our supplies were limited and we were starving. The food in Puerto Lempira is very unsafe to eat; theres no electricity, and the village is infested with rats and flies. When we landed on the small concrete airstrip we taxied right up to the restaurant. I had placed my order over the radio so that it would be ready when we got there. After we ate Mike and Lyle went to find some gas for the plane. Gas is not easy to find in some areas and we had to use automobile gas most of the time. Lyle spoke with an American who was a local fisherman, and he agreed to sell us some gas. Ana decided to go for a swim while Mike and Lyle put the gas in the plane. When they finished they came back to the restaurant.
Mike said he wanted to go back to Tegucigalpa that afternoon. I was hoping to go to Roatan, a small island about 30 miles north of Trujillo and go Scuba diving but Mike was the boss. Lyle said that we needed to leave right away to try to beat the thunderstorms that develop every afternoon over the jungle. I told Ana we were ready to leave, and then we started to get the plane ready for take off. I said good-bye to my friends in Trujillo, and then we took off.
The weather was starting to get cloudy but it was not too bad. We had to fly through a mountain range of solid jungle to get to Tegucigalpa. When we were flying over the jungle the a storm developed right over us. We had been through some pretty bad storms before on this trip so I was not too concerned, but we were flying through narrow passes then we got hit with a downpour. Within seconds we lost all visibility. we were trying to follow a river through the mountains, but now we couldnt see two inches ahead of us.
The wind was hitting us so hard that the wings looked like they were flapping like a birds wings. The plane was being blown all over the place. Lighting was exploding around us like artillery shells. I didnt think it could take much more and I was also waiting to slam into a mountain at any second. Lyle looked at me and said This is the worst storm I have ever flown in. After he said that I got really nervous. I was holding on so hard that my knuckles were white, and the plane was bouncing around so hard I figured it would just fall apart. Mike shouted over the noise of the rain and the engine, If anyone lives through the crash we need to find the river and float to the coast, the natives are all along the coastline. I thought, yea, the river is full of crocodiles. That didnt matter because I was not expecting to live through the crash anyway.
Lyle was trying to raise someone on the radio but he wasnt having any luck. We did not file a flight plan because there was no one to file one with, so there would be no search party. Even if there was, we were over the jungle, and the plane would disintegrate and be covered by the canopy. I expected to die. After a while I became numb and accepted the fact that today was the day. Once I did that I was able to relax and even enjoy the view. The rain had created waterfalls on the sides of the mountains that were unbelievable, I will never forget them. I thought that it was fantastic to be able to view such beauty in my last moments on earth.
We would break through the rain and clouds for a few minutes and get to look around. There were mountains all around us so we would look for a pass to fly through. When we couldnt find one we would circle until it cleared and then fly to it and hope that clouds would not cover it before we got there. We fought that storm all afternoon and I really didnt think we would ever make it but somehow we did.
As we flew inland the weather started to clear. I was thinking that this is a trip I will never forget. The rest of the flight we were all quiet. We were about two hours from Tegucigalpa and I couldnt wait to get there. To get to Tegucigalpa, you have to fly over another mountain range, then drop down into a valley, which makes landing extremely difficult at that airport. The last two hours to Tegucigalpa were pretty uneventful. The weather was still cloudy but it was nothing like before. Finally we could see the last mountains that we had to fly over to land at the airport.
|Lyle was lining us up for our final approach, and he put his headset on then contacted the tower. I could see that he was talking to them, however, I couldnt hear what he was saying. We flew past a large mountain and then turned left for our final approach. The runway suddenly came into view in front of us and boy was I ever glad to see that! We started our descent to the runway, flying just over the top of the mountains surrounding the airport. I could see a village in front of us that ran from the base of the mountain to the fence of the airport. The village was a slum, full of people living in shacks made of plywood. Lyle started to make a few last minute corrections for our approach by adjusting the trim which changed our angle of descent. |
Right after he made the corrections the engine quit and we started losing altitude rapidly. We were now heading straight for the village below us. Lyle was desperately trying to restart the engine but we could not regain power. I thought, oh no, If we hit the village were going to kill a lot of people, and just as I thought that Lyle turned the plane back into the mountain. When he did that we lost the airspeed, and the plane went into a dive. All I could see was the mountain coming up fast, we were heading right into the side of a cliff. I thought nobodys going to live through this and then completely relaxed, reached down and unfastened my seat belt, and in the most relaxed voice I spoke the only words that were said aloud.God, were all going to die. I was so calm I could not believe it. I expected to die but it was alright. Lyle pulled back on the controls, the plane started to come out of the dive, and then we slammed into the mountain.
A loud crash and then total silence. One second I was in a noisy plane but now it was quiet. I opened my eyes and tried to look around to see how my friends were, but I couldnt move. I was lying face down in my own blood. For a moment I was stunned and didnt feel any pain but that only lasted for a couple of seconds. I started trying to move my limbs just a tiny bit one at a time to check the extent of my injuries. It felt like everything was broken. Suddenly I could hear yelling in Spanish coming from a distance; it was getting closer and closer. It was the people from the village, they saw us go down. They ran up to me, and I think they thought I was dead because someone poked me in the back with a stick or something. It hurt so bad when he did that, I moved. As soon as I moved they realized I was alive, and someone rolled me over onto my back. I was expecting to see the plane scattered all around, but I didnt see anything. I had been thrown through the door when we hit the cliff because I had unfastened my seat belt.
There was a crowd of people looking down at me and everyone was shouting. All of a sudden a few of the men grabbed my arms and legs, picked me up and started running down the mountain. I was trying to tell them to put me down but I was in too much pain, and I couldnt breathe. I was afraid that I would never walk again, I could hear sirens getting closer, and the men who were carrying me laid me onto the ground. I was trying to look around so I could see how my friends were, but there were too many people standing around me.
Two men broke through the crowd and started to examine me. They put a backboard under me and put a neck brace on, and then I was picked up and carried to an ambulance. The ambulance took off down the mountain. The mountain was very steep in places and when we started down one part all the blood rushed to my head. The pressure caused so much pain I thought it was going to kill me. I was trying to scream but I couldnt; my lung was punctured and it was filling up with blood. I kept asking him please dont let me die, over and over. The only thing that the paramedic did to me was cover me with white paper, everywhere except my face. The ride to the hospital took about 15 minutes but it seemed like hours.
The ambulance backed into the hospital, the doors flew open and people were screaming at me in Spanish. When the doctors pulled me out I was mobbed by reporters taking my picture and holding recorders in my face. The doctors had to fight their way through the crowd to get me inside. They were taking me through a hallway when someone said I am from the American Embassy, who are you and who are the other people that were on the plane? I told him that I needed to see his identification before I would tell him anything. I thought that he could be a reporter who spoke good English. It was so hard for me to talk but I told him to call my brother and have him call my mother. I figured that my brother would break it to her easier. I gave him my brothers number, then I told him who was on the plane.
They cut my clothes off then took me to an X-Ray room and put the stretcher next to the table. The X-Ray table was about two feet higher than the stretcher so they had to lift me up onto the table by my arms and legs. It hurt so bad, I thought I was going to pass out. They X-Rayed me, and said that I had seven broken ribs, left shoulder, left collarbone, sternum and both of my legs were broken in multiple places so they put casts on my legs and then put me back on the stretcher, wheeled me down the hall to a large room with about twenty five people in it and put me onto a mattress with no sheets or pillows. It was very hot and the room had no windows or air circulation. The stench was awful. I looked around hoping to see my friends but they werent there. I kept asking people where they were but nobody would answer me. A young girl approached me and gave me a shot in my left knuckle. It burned all the way up my arm but when the burning reached my head everything went numb.
After about an hour they brought Ana into the room and put her onto a mattress next to mine. She was naked like most of the people in the room. She was convulsing violently and vomiting all over herself. No body did anything for her or for me. The flies were all over us and they were biting me pretty bad. My entire left side was broken so I couldnt move my arm. My right arm appeared to have a compound fracture just under the elbow but I could move it. I carefully placed my left arm onto my chest then moved my right arm back and forth over my chest and head to keep the flies off. I started trying to scrape the dried blood off of my head and chest with my fingernails.
It hurt so bad to be laying flat on the mattress. I kept asking for a pillow but they said they didnt have any. Finally someone brought a IV bag and placed it under my head. It relieved a lot of pain to be able to prop my head up. When I put my head on the bag I felt that the back of my head had been cut open. It was still moist, and I could feel a large flap of skin that was loose. I pushed it to where I thought it belonged and carefully placed my head down and kept it very still so it would heal straight.
A young Honduran man came up to me and said in very broken English that my lung was filling up with blood and if it did not stop they would have to operate and drain the blood then he walked off. I thought about it for a while and decided not to let them operate on me under these conditions even if it meant dying. The U.S. Ambassador came to see how I was doing so I told him not to let them operate on me under any circumstances. He assured me that he would do that. Then he told me that he was working on having me moved to a private hospital, and he left.
Two girls came over and started to look at some of my wounds. They couldnt speak any English at all. One of them started to try to put a catheter into me but I dont think that she had ever done that before because the other girl was trying to talk her through it. She was having some sort of a problem properly putting it in, so she had to do it three times. They only cleaned the wound on my arm and a small wound on my forehead then they left. The catheter leaked all over my mattress so now I was laying in urine and dried blood.
Ana was still convulsing although it seemed like it wasnt as bad as before. I Knew that she was dying. People would walk by, stop and look and then just walk off. All I could do was to lie there and watch. After about six hours Ana died. The flies were all over her. I think it took me about two hours to get someones attention and let them know that she was dead. I can never forget the look on her face. I asked one of the men who came to take Ana away, where my other friends were. He told me that they were dead. It was at that moment that I decided to leave Honduras at all cost, even if it killed me. I figured that I was probably bleeding internally and was going to die anyway, so I wanted to try to make it to the states.
The ambassador came to see me in the morning, He told me that he had found a better hospital to move me to and that the ambulance would take me there later that afternoon. I asked him to get me out of the country. He said that there were no medical flights leaving Honduras, only commercial ones and I would have to be able to walk onto the plane for them to let me on board. I knew from that point on that every second would have to be devoted to being able to stand and walk. I started trying to sit up, but I could not even move an inch with out excruciating pain. I could only sit up about an inch and then I would collapse, wait five minutes then do it again but each time I would go just a little bit higher.
That afternoon a paramedic came and had someone translate to me that he was going to take me to another hospital. The translator then told me that the paramedic was the same one that had pulled me off of the mountain. They brought in a stretcher then lifted me by my arms and legs and placed me on it. It hurt so much to lay flat. They brought me to a private hospital in downtown Tegucigalpa. They took me straight to the X-Ray table and started the whole process again. They asked me what was broken on me and I told them what I new was wrong. After they X-Rayed me I was taken to a room.
Finely someone came in and started to clean my wounds. I had not been cleaned since the crash and I was still filthy and covered in dried blood and dirt from the impact. Every second that I was awake I would try to sit up. I could already sit up about halfway and it was only the third day since the crash. I had lost my malaria medication in the crash so I thought I would develop it. I was already sick from drinking the water in the hospital. I had always purified my water but my kit was lost in the crash.
On the evening of the fourth day I could finally stand. I knew that I would be on the first plane out of there the next morning. At 6:00 am I called the Ambassador and told him that I could stand and I wanted to leave. I had the hospital call the doctor to have him come to the hospital so he could cut one of the casts off of my leg so I could walk. The plane leaves every day at 10:30 am, so we had to hurry. The doctor arrived and started to set my right leg to cut off the cast. He showed me the cast knife and said dont worry it wont cut you. He started to cut at the bottom, over the outside of my ankle. As soon as he started to cut I screamed, my ankle bone had been shattered and it was swollen inside the cast. The cast knife cut right into my ankle. He tried to cut the other side and the same thing happened. My ankle was the size of a softball and bleeding on both sides. We got the cast off and put a bandage around the ankle.
They put me into a wheelchair then brought me downstairs to the embassy van. The Ambassador drove me to the airport where we were mobbed by reporters. He brought me into the Diplomatic Lounge to get away from the reporters. After about a half an hour the lounge was full of Diplomats. The Ambassador said that the President of Honduras would arrive at any time and everyone was here to meet him. A flight attendant told me that I could board the plane. I walked up the stairs and flew home on the morning of the fifth day.
We had no way of knowing that the storm had sealed our fate. We burned up too much fuel in the storm, only a half of gallon more gas would have put us on the runway. It took me a month and a half to find out that my back was broken in four places and my neck was broken; thats why it hurt so bad to lay flat. Then it took a year before I would be diagnosed with a list of internal parasites from the water at the hospital. After It was all over I had ended up with 19 broken bones, a punctured lung. Six months after the crash, I jumped out of a small airplane just to make sure that would not have a fear of flying.