Text Box: Surviving an Airplane Crash
by Ilan Reich
Updated March 1, 2008







On the afternoon of Thursday, June 30, 2005 I was briefly incapacitated by a seizure while flying alone on a short trip from Lincoln Park, NJ to White Plains, NY. 


After recovering from the seizure event, I activated the full-airplane parachute that is standard equipment on all Cirrus airplanes.   On the descent, I steered the plane clear of a fuel tank farm and crash-landed into the water by the Hudson River near Haverstraw, NY


Later that day in the emergency room at Nyack Hospital, I learned that the crash caused a mild compression fracture in my spine.  More importantly, the CT scan revealed that I had a benign brain tumor, which was growing undetected in the middle of my brain for many years and was apparently the cause of the seizure in-flight.


I fully recovered from the spinal fracture after wearing a back brace for a month.  But due to the serious nature of the tumor, I voluntarily surrendered my FAA medical certificate and was restricted from driving.


The tumor was successfully removed on August 2, 2005 at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, but the surgery and its aftereffects left me paralyzed and numb on the entire right side of my body:  I was confined to a wheelchair and couldn’t lift a spoon.  I spent several grueling months in various forms of rehab in order to reestablish the nerve connections from the brain to my right arm and leg. 


By October 2005 I was finally able to regain some semblance of functionality, and started to resume many normal activities, including driving a car and flying (albeit with an instructor). 


In January 2006 I was able to snowboard again, winning a small bet against naysayers who thought it couldn’t be done.  A year later I was certified as an open water scuba diver, a sport which I enjoy immensely. 


In October 2007 I asked the FAA to reinstate my medical certificate, based on the neurologist’s report that he considers “Mr. Reich’s risk of sudden incapacitation to be comparable to that of the general population.  I would consider it safe for him to engage in all activities and would not place any restrictions on him.”  Thus far the FAA has declined to do so.


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Fortune Magazine senior writer Jennifer Reingold chronicled the crash and its aftermath, as well as other interesting episodes in my life, in the print issue of the magazine dated June 11, 2007 (slow access, since it’s a 2MB PDF file) and at the CNNmoney.com website (which has much faster download access).


Other items relating to the crash and its aftermath:


            Retracing the parachute pull using images from Google Earth


Amateur photos taken as the plane sinks


Photos of the plane after it was recovered from the water, dismembered and shipped to a salvage yard


National Transportation Safety Board report (issued July 2006)


MRI images taken on August 2, 2005, just prior to surgery



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I kept a blog of my experiences and sent copies to family, friends and fellow pilots:


Cirrus in the Water:  Here’s What Happened (July 3, 2005)


            Published verbatim by AvWeb (July 7, 2005)


            Published by Plane & Pilot Magazine (October 2005):  Living Through the Parachute Pull


                        Subsequent letters to the editor of Plane & Pilot Magazine


Surviving an Airplane Crash:  Two Weeks Later (July 15, 2005)


Surgery Report (August 4, 2005)


Ten Days After the Surgery (August 12, 2005)


Out of the Hospital (August 21, 2005)


Five Weeks After the Surgery (September 6, 2005)


Flying Again (September 19, 2005)


Haverstraw, NY (October 26, 2005)


Take a Disabled Person Flying Today (November 5, 2005)


Snowboarding Again (January 13, 2006), including video clip


Six Month Update:  More Surgery (February 9, 2006)


Successful Second Surgery (March 23, 2006)


Why I Love to Fly (July 11, 2006)


You can also read a blog entry by money manager Mario Gabelli and a follow-up story about my return to flying in AvWeb (November 23, 2005)



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Following the tragic crash of Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle’s Cirrus into a Manhattan high rise building, the local media interviewed me as the resident expert on surviving a Cirrus crash: 


            CBS News (October 11, 2006)


            CNBC Closing Bell (October 12, 2006)



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Here are links to 2005 local news coverage of the crash:

CBS News video report June 30


CBS News video report July 1


Next day coverage and photos from local newspapers


Rockland Journal:       June 30 (first report)  (online article) 

July 2  

July 3







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Copyright 2005-2007 by Ilan Reich