Virginia Beach, Va. (WTKR) - Halfway through his first deployment on the USS George H.W. Bush last summer, something went horribly wrong for Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Aircraft Handler Collin Kohlhepp.
“I was pulling the brake off of the back wheel and they started towing the plane forward and I just got caught,” he recalled in an exclusive interview with NewsChannel 3’s Todd Corillo.
An F/A-18 Super Hornet was on top of Kohlhepp.
“At the time I was like, ‘I’m just happy to be alive. I got run over by a jet.’ You don’t think – there are people who get hit by cars and that’s it. I got hit by a plane!”
Now nearly a year after he lost his leg, Kohlhepp is opening up about the accident, the challenges he’s faced and his determination and resilience for the future.
It was June 18, 2014.
The USS George HW Bush was cruising in the Arabian Gulf.
Kohlhepp, who joined the Navy shortly after graduating from Ocean Lakes High School in 2012, was about half-way through his first deployment.
“It was a regular day. Wake up. Get dressed. Meet your guys and get up on the flight deck and you do your job.”
That job for Kohlhepp involved directing jets on the flight deck of the Bush.
On that day, however, something went horribly wrong.
Kohlhepp got stuck under the wheel of a Super Hornet while the crew was trying to move the jet.
“I thought somebody had pulled be back and I looked around and then I felt it and this is not good and I started yelling – my guy saw me and stopped it immediately and started backing up.”
Within seconds, the jet was off his legs, but the damage had been done.
“I was in shock. I thought I was going to die for a second.”
The weeks that followed are all a blur of memories for Kohlhepp.
Within seconds, he was in the medical unit on the USS George HW Bush.
From there, he was taken to Bahrain and then Germany.
Being in Germany 3 days later is Kohlhepp’s first concrete memory after the accident.
Soon he found himself transferred to Walter Reed Military Hospital in suburban Maryland.
It was there that doctors confirmed his leg would have to be amputated.
“I was okay with it up until the day of amputation they were like ‘hey, are you ready?’ and I was like ‘okay, I’m going to lose a leg.’”
The Road to Recovery
Kohlhepp was fitted with a prosthetic to replace the portion of his right leg that was amputated.
“I still have a knee. That’s important. That’s a good thing to have,” he said laughing.
Next came learning to use the prosthetic, something that proved to be more challenging than expected.
“You’ve got to learn how to take steps. Be able to figure out your footing. You’ve got to get strength back too – your legs are weak after lying in bed for so long.”
There are things he still finds difficult – stairs are a pain and he discovered activities like Go-Karting aren’t easy without both legs.
Still, he’s taken it all remarkably well.
Kohlhepp has gone snowboarding with his new prosthetic and three months after he was run over by a plane, he found himself at the controls of a small one.
“I was nervous! I was like – last time I saw a plane – it wasn’t great,” Kohlhepp shared with a laugh.
Collin Kohlhepp is insistent that what happened to him on the flight deck of the USS George HW Bush was an accident.
“It just happened. It was just an accident you know. It was nobody’s fault.”
When the USS George HW Bush returned to Norfolk in November, Kohlhepp was on-board, having flown out to the ship, reunited with his fellow crew there the day of the accident.
“I still hang out with the guys that were involved you know. Like if they are home I go hangout and get a drink and see each other.”
Kohlhepp is expected to remain at Walter Reed for another 6-8 months.
After that, he wants to go to college and major in film, hoping to one day work on major blockbuster action movies.
As far as what happened to him on the Bush that June day-
“I don’t regret any of it. It’s made me who I am. I wouldn’t take any of it back. Just keep going. I’m still normal. I’m still me. Just because I’m missing a leg doesn’t make me any less of a person.”