Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ted Smith Aerostar 600, Heliblack LLC, N164HH: Accident occurred September 11, 2015 in Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia

Road to recovery: Pilot stays positive after debilitating plane crash

Jimmy Garland pets his dog, Dexter, who tags along while Garland works at the Cherokee County Airport. Garland returned to work following severe injuries in a plane crash while working on the movie, ‘Mena.’ 

The word “can’t” isn’t in Jimmy Garland’s vocabulary.

After months of in-patient rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center, where the Cherokee County Airport manager spent time relearning muscle movement, the local resident is back in the comfort of his home. His road to recovery, however, is far from over –— Garland is expected to continue outpatient rehabilitation three days a week for one to two hours each time.

“I am very happy with where I am,” he said. “The community support and all of the people who have prayed for me was just unbelievable. I did not realize how many really good friends that I had.”

In September, Garland was pulled from the wreckage of a twin-engine plane that crashed in Colombia while filming for the Tom Cruise movie, “Mena.” Garland, who is an owner of S&S Aviation, the company that is the fixed base operator of the Cherokee County Airport, shattered his T-12 vertebrate in the accident and received major trauma to his face.

“I had a concussion and my left eye socket was damaged from where my face hit the instrument panel, and they had to put a plate in my face to rebuild my cheekbone,” he said. “I broke my jawbone and lost two teeth that were loose.”

Garland also suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung and broken ankles.

“We hit so hard that my internal organs were pushed up in my body cavity,” he said. “They had to reposition those and correct my diaphragm.”

The crash that critically injured Garland claimed the lives of veteran Hollywood pilot Alan Purwin and Venezuelan Carlos Berl — two individuals Garland called “friends.”

Jimmy Garland talks with coworker Evan Chumbler at the Cherokee County Airport after returning to work following severe injuries in a plane crash while working on the movie, ‘Mena.’

The crash happened on Sept. 11 as the trio were returning to the city of Medellin, Colombia, in a twin-engine Piper-Aerostar 600.

“I don’t remember anything at all from that night. I actually don’t remember that entire day or even getting up that morning,” he said. “The next thing that I recall was that I was in Grady Hospital in Atlanta. They were working to get me off of the respirator and that’s actually the first thing I remember.”

Garland spent eight days in Colombia prior to being flown back to Atlanta.

“My wife said that I would wake up, nod and shake my head, but I don’t remember any of that,” he said. “My therapist said that if I had not remembered anything by now, then I probably wouldn’t. That’s the way it normally goes.”

Although Garland was severely injured and was told that he would likely live out the rest of his life in a wheelchair, he chooses to look at the glass as being half full.

Planes sit on the tarmac at the Cherokee County Airport.

“I had the hand of God around me that night. Just to look at how much damage there was, I am amazed that I am alive,” he said.

Despite having a can-do attitude, some days are overwhelming for the avid pilot.

“They nursed me back to health physically and then they trained me to live my life in a wheelchair, and they are very good at it. I can’t say enough about the Shepherd Center and what fantastic people they are,” he said. “That’s the kind of energy you need, because some days, you go back to your room and you are overwhelmed with the change in your life.”

Simple daily things that people take for granted, Garland is having to relearn.

“Normal routine things that you think nothing about, like showering or going to the bathroom, it is completely different for me,” he said. “With an injury like this, the muscles lose all of their memory. You are basically like a child learning everything again.”

A strong will is what gets him through each day.

“I am a very determined person,” he said. “When you start getting down or feeling sorry for yourself, you can look around and see others who are in worse situations. I am pretty normal from the waist up, and I am still alive. I can still live a very good life and be very happy with that. I always look on the positive side. I believe we have the choice to live our lives happy or sad. For some people, it is easier to make that choice.”

Garland will continue outpatient rehabilitation to strengthen the parts of his body that are working. Right now, he said he has good functional control of his left thigh but cannot feel his right leg.

“There is nothing there — no muscle movement,” he said. “I can lift my left foot off the ground when I don’t have a shoe on. It is getting very strong compared to what it was. My calf muscle is just now coming alive.”

As a veteran aviator, Garland said he would like to get back into the cockpit one day, but added that it isn’t a top priority. In order to operate the airplane, he said he will need to have both legs functioning.

Story and photo gallery:

NTSB Identification: ERA15WA355
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, September 11, 2015 in Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia
Aircraft: SMITH AEROSTAR600, registration: N164HH
Injuries: 2 Fatal, 1 Serious.

The foreign authority was the source of this information.

On September 11, 2015, about 2230 UTC, a Smith Aerostar 600; N164HH was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain after takeoff from Rancho AĆ©reo Santa Fe de Antioquia Airport (SKSF), Santa Fe de Antioquia, Colombia. Two occupants were fatally injured, and one occupant was seriously injured.

This accident investigation is under the jurisdiction of the Government of Colombia. Any further information pertaining to this may be obtained from:

Accident Research Group
Unit Administrative Special Aeronautical Civil
Avenida El Dorado
# 103 - 23
Bogota, Colombia

This report is for information purposes and contains only information released by the Government of Columbia.

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