The disaster on a mission of mercy brought many spiritual insights and Diana Burgess will share them today in Oldsmar.
By EILEEN SCHULTE
Published June 14, 2003
She didn't have time to cry out. She didn't have time to think. She didn't have time to know that her legs were practically being pulled off.
All she knew was the Lear jet she was flying in was in the sky one moment and tumbling from the runway in the next. Her patient was dead by the time the craft crashed down a 60-foot cliff at 120 mph. Diana Burgess knows that now.
The flaming runaway plane smashed its wing into a navigational tower, slid across a six-lane highway and clipped a coal truck before coming to a stop.
In the emergency lane.
The horrific crash was on Aug. 30, 2002 at a Lexington, Ky., airport and Burgess, a critical care nurse from Seminole, was helping transport a woman with lung cancer on Care Flight International air ambulance company. She and the crew were flying from Marco Island to Lexington and had been laughing and talking about their families.
In the year since the accident, Burgess said she feels blessed.
"God has been so good to us," she said.
She walks with a cane now. She has deep, angry scars running down the length of her legs. She can't bend her knees when standing and will have surgery on June 30 to implant cadaver ligaments in her knees.
She'll talk about her experience Saturday at Gateway Community Church.
It has been the roughest, most painful and in some respects, best year of her life.
She said the plane touched down on the runway like it had a thousand times before, but this time, when the captain tried the brakes, they didn't work.
"I heard him say "no brakes,' " Burgess said.
He deployed the reverse thrusters, but they didn't work. He tried again. Nothing. In a desperate attempt to stop the aircraft, Burgess said, the co-pilot grabbed the emergency brake and said "hold on."
The plane went off a cliff and across the highway, which was clear of cars, and stopped.
"I was hemorrhaging," said Burgess. "I could see my captain slumped over the yoke, blood all over him. I thought he was dead."
The plane filled with the smell of jet fuel.
The patient, Louise Babb, was slumped forward, dead in her seat. Her husband, John Babb, was critically injured.
Smoke started filling the cabin.
"My biggest fear in life is to burn," Burgess said. "I went to stand up and couldn't."
People in cars stopped and got out with fire extinguishers, trying to suppress the flames. One man tried to smash the cockpit windows in, but failed.
Burgess watched all this through the window like it was a movie, she said.
She couldn't move, but she knew she wasn't helpless. There was something she could do.
In a clear, strong voice, she called out: "Dear God, in Jesus' name please save us and please save us now!"
Miles Lansing, the pilot, shuddered and came awake.
"He said it was like someone shook him," said Burgess.
He asked Burgess where he was, opened the door and fell out.
Rescuers pulled the rest of the crew and passengers from the plane.
Co-pilot Jim Hensel of the Safety Harbor Fire Department, had a broken back.
Bryan Perry, a passerby who stopped his car to help, carried Burgess a few yards away and set her her on the grass.
A woman named Chris laid her body across Burgess' face while firefighters sprayed the plane with foam to douse the fire.
"She prayed for me, which was so cool," said Burgess, 41.
As terrible as the crash was, Burgess says God was with them, tipping the nose of the jet up just before it hit the earth, saving them all.
"That nose came up for no reason," said Burgess. "The plane should have gone down like a lawn dart."
She also credits divine force for the crash happening 45 seconds away from a level I trauma center, Burgess said.
As paramedics readied her for transport and the plane burned, she called her husband, Ed, on a borrowed cell phone, telling him her legs were broken.
Instead, the injuries were much worse: a punctured lung and bilateral posterior knee dislocations, a fractured vertebra and severed arteries.
She underwent 13 hours of surgery, and afterward, was in ICU for seven days. Twice, she almost died from kidney and respiratory failure.
Her family brought her Bible from their home in Seminole.
One verse kept her going through the pain: "Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me."
Eventually, she became stronger, and endures the stares from strangers who look at her scars and wonder what happened to her.