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Outer Banks pilot on crash that nearly killed her: ‘There is no way somebody should have survived that’

Posted at 11:21 PM, Nov 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-13 10:05:49-05

Outer Banks, NC - What would you do if you got a second chance at life?

“There is no way somebody should have survived that,” says pilot Jenny Hawk.

It's a question that unfurls in Hawk's mind like the advertising banners she lifted into the Manteo breeze.

Jenny earns a living in the Outer Banks sky, tugging airborne ads, giving thrill rides, even teaching people like NewsChannel 3's Mike Mather to fly.

She grew her business from a single Cessna into a high-flying fleet of airplanes criss-crossing the barrier islands. And then one day she hurtled out of control, she conceded it was all over. And she prepared to die.

She never thought she would survive it.

“Oh, yeah. I knew I wasn`t going to. There is no way you can hit the water going 120 and survive. There`s no way,” says Hawk.

In the middle of September at the controls of her red-and-white Citabria, Jenny dove to snatch a banner from the grass.

She's done it a thousand times. But the tow rope got caught in the plane's tail. When the hook snagged the banner and pulled the line tight, that snapped down the plane's elevator.

Hawk says she knew what was happening.

Streaking towards the water, she wrestled for control and then realized - calmly she says - this was the end.

“I was like, this sucks. This really sucks. And I knew my mom was standing here,” says Hawk.

So was her friend and employee Alicia Herron.

Herron was so convinced in her boss' skills that she never thought Jenny was in trouble, until she saw the splash.

“What's the first thought that goes through your mind?” asked NewsChannel 3’s Mike Mather.

“That we have to get her out of the water. That we have to go get her,” says Herron.

“It`s just one minute you are like normal. And you are making plans and you`re going to go to dinner and you`re going to get off work soon. Then the next minute you`re in the ICU. And things change forever,” says Hawk.

Remarkably, Jenny survived. Police at first said she suffered just cuts and bruises. But in reality, it was far worse. She spent weeks in the hospital, much of that time in critical condition, and endured several surgeries.

Her doctor put it bluntly.

“He said, you crushed your face. I`m like, oh, I am lucky I don`t have brain damage. He says, you`re lucky you`re alive,” says Hawk.

It's been two months since the crash. She's back in Manteo now, and most days, at her hangar. Her return delighted hundreds who followed her progress on a Facebook page.

“I`m really fortunate for the friends and family that I have. And the people that are just willing to help. It`s like having a fan club,” says Hawk.

She says she never even realized she had a fan club.

This is normally the part of the story where a reporter ties it up with a sappy ending, where the subject of the story has some epiphany about the meaning of second chances. In truth, Jenny doesn't know what this means. She's still working long hours. She's still flying, although she hasn't flown by herself since the crash. But she is more grateful for everything she has.

“And if you look at pictures of the airplane when it was in the hangar upside down, and you look in the cockpit, nobody should have ever survived. So, I owe the world something. I need to do something really cool,” says Hawk.

Or maybe, she's already doing something really cool. She helped Mike Mather realize a life-long dream. And she helps people like Alicia, just starting her flying career, realize that the sky is not the limit. It's just a good place to start.

“It's awesome. It's amazing. I really do look up to her,” says Herron.

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