Doctor, wife recovering
When the engine on his plane stalled Saturday, the last thing on Carson City physician Kevin Jensen’s mind was himself.
“I saw we were headed for some houses and I could see people inside. I was just sick,” he said Wednesday from his Carson City home.
Jensen, 45, said he unsuccessfully tried to restart the engine of the Piper Cherokee he purchased six weeks before.
His only alternative, as the aircraft raced toward the ground at 100 mph, was to veer away from the East Carson City homes and bring his side of the craft in line with any objects to protect his passenger and wife of 22 years, Lois.
“I thought I could make the field, but we were dropping too fast. So, I aimed for the trees. I knew hitting them would slow us down at least,” he said. “I was making the plane turn so much to the right so that it would hit the left wing, hopefully saving my wife and the people in the home.”
What Jensen didn’t know in the moments as his plane plummeted to earth was that Bob Griffin, 63, was in his back yard in the 4400 block of Apollo Drive moving a lawn sprinkler. Griffin was in the path of the aircraft when it landed in his yard, pinning him beneath the wreckage.
“We hit a poplar tree and it took the right wing off,” Jensen said. He said the craft hit another cluster of trees, flipping the plane on its side.
“Then we just dropped.”
Jensen recalls the dust once the plane settled and how quiet his wife was.
“I asked her if she was OK and she said ‘yes,’ and I told her my leg was broken,” he said. The two were suspended by their seat belts in the upside-down cockpit.
He said his wife unlatched the door but couldn’t get it open, so he punched it through.
Then, suddenly, people came from every direction.
“I was hanging out of the plane and this big guy comes over and grabs me. I am asking him to please get my wife. After he pulled me out and laid me on the lawn, there was a lady that came over and petted my head and said, ‘It will be all right.”
Recalling the kindness of the strangers, Jensen begins to cry, covering his face.
“I would like to thank them,” he said as his 11-year-old daughter, Karen, hugged his neck. “It wasn’t until I had been pulled out and was lying on the lawn, and my wife was hanging out of the plane and the horror of seeing that, that I heard a woman screaming,” he said.
The voice he heard belonged to Griffin’s wife, Patricia.
“She was screaming, ‘Bob, Bob!’ and saying he was under the tail of the plane.”
Jensen said when he heard there was someone on the ground beneath the plane, he cried out to try to lift the tail. “But they couldn’t do it alone.”
Rescuers pulled Lois from the plane and laid her beside her husband on the grass. She was very quiet, he recalled, and said he thought to himself, “My wife is dead, this other man is hurt, my foot is laying the wrong way – this is terrible.”
Lois remember’s hearing Patricia Griffin calling out.
“She was screaming, ‘My husband is under the plane.’ It just made me sick. It was unbelievable.”
Griffin was still conscious when paramedics arrived. Initially crews thought they might need air bags to lift the tail from his mangled legs. But then they realized, once the craft had settled, the tail was no longer pinning him.
Griffin was taken by CareFlight helicopter to Washoe Medical Center, where he remains in satisfactory condition. The Jensens were taken to Carson-Tahoe Hospital, where Kevin Jensen underwent surgery to place pins in his broken leg.
Lois Jensen was flown to Washoe Medical Center because doctors feared from the bruising on her abdomen she may have suffered severe internal injuries. An examination revealed that was not the case and she was released that night.
To look at her now, covered in deep purple bruises, it’s hard to believe nothing is broken.
“Just contusions, abrasions and cuts,” she said.
Her mother, Marilyn Smith, is helping the couple as they recover at home. The two are camped out in the family room – Kevin Jensen in a hospital bed, Lois, covered in an afghan on the couch.
Smith has seen the plane close up and is amazed everyone is alive.
“I can’t believe they walked away from that,” she said.
Jensen said National Transportation and Safety Board inspectors believe a fuel system failure may have caused the 1967 aircraft’s engine to stop.
The plane was taken to Sacramento where investigators are trying to pinpoint exactly what caused the problem.
Jensen feels pretty strongly he might never fly again.
“The guys that have investigated the crash said, ‘You did everything you could. You ought to think about flying again. But I have a wife and four children. Its not worth it.”
Knowing his wife will be fine eases Jensen’s mind, but he has a lot of guilt for the pain he feels he’s caused the Griffin family.
“My heart is still with him. I called them on Monday and told them how truly sorry I was for what happened. The Griffins were so kind to me. I told them how concerned and worried about him I was and how I was keeping them in my prayers and Mrs. Griffin said, ‘Our prayers are with you, too.'”