Lucky landing - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Lucky landing

Three local men survive high-speed airplane crash

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Posted: Saturday, December 14, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 12:34 am, Sat Dec 14, 2013.

As the stalled twin-engine airplane carrying Sean Henry and several other men crashed into the ground Monday at Glacier Park International Airport, Henry thought, "OK, Jesus, here I come."

"We all thought we were dying," said Henry, owner of Rock & Water, a high-end pool and custom water feature design and installation company headquartered in Hayden.

Along with his business partner, Jonathan Kersey, and the company's landscape architect, Fred Ogram, Henry was traveling to northwest Montana to meet with a client when the crash occurred.

The skies were clear when the plane took off from North Idaho, Henry said. The chartered Beech Baron flew through a series of clouds before approaching the airport near Kalispell and Whitefish.

As the pilot directed the aircraft in to land, icing caused the plane to stall and drop, Henry said.

"Jonathan could see the pilots panicking," Henry said. "He had a look of terror on his face."

The plane made a hard landing. The aircraft's speed at the time is estimated to be more than 90 knots, Henry said. That's about 104 mph.

After careening into the ground wing-first, Henry said the plane's tail slammed down. The craft then bounced several times before sliding 1,500 feet into a field.

"Jonathan said he couldn't feel his legs and his back hurt," Henry said.

Concerned the plane would catch fire, Henry and the other passengers removed Kersey from the damaged aircraft. Kersey was seriously injured, with several crushed vertebrae in his lower back.

The rest of the passengers walked away nearly unscathed.

"For myself, with all the adrenaline, I didn't realize I was hurt. I was just rushing around trying to make sure everyone else was OK," Henry said. "Then I realized I was kind of banged-up."

Henry's injury, a bruised tailbone, was far less serious than Kersey's.

"The doctors told him there would be a 50/50 chance whether he would ever walk again," Henry said. "Miraculously, Jonathan came through surgery and the next day he was able to stand up. He walked three steps."

Kersey is still hospitalized, and Henry said he has a long recovery period ahead of him. Everyone at Rock & Water is focusing now on supporting Kersey, who did not wish to be interviewed because he is heavily medicated.

Henry called the experience "surreal."

"Jonathan and I both have these prayer coins we carry in our pockets," Henry said. "When we pulled Jonathan out of the plane, he pulled his prayer coin out of his pocket and he held on to it."

Kersey has his coin with him now, by his hospital bed, Henry said.

Ron Nilson, CEO of Ground Force Worldwide in Post Falls, knows the power of the prayer coins. Nilson carries one himself and has given away about 250 of the $7 coins that say "pray always." Henry and Kersey are recipients of Nilson's coins.

Nilson said it helps him; he holds onto the coin when things become challenging, and it reminds him of God's love and that he needs to share it.

"It's just a symbol that says we need to recognize that there's a power greater than ourselves," Nilson said.

The experience in the crash has highlighted for Henry just how vulnerable everyone is, regardless of the size of their bank accounts.

"We take our lives so seriously. We think we have control, but we really don't," he said. "We don't focus on what's important and brush off the stuff we tend to drive ourselves crazy with."

Henry said that hugging his three sons and his wife when he first saw them after the crash was a particularly emotional experience.

"We've been told by a handful of pilots and investigators that we should be dead right now, that you do not survive an accident like that," Henry said.

His wife, Tracy, said that as soon as she learned about the crash she called the members of her prayer group, and they began to pray.

"It just brings to the forefront what's most important in life, and that's the people you love," she said.

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