|Jason Flood presented a program at the IAC forum explaining the benefits of aerobatic training and how it has saved his life. (photo by Mariano Rosales)
By Barbara A. Schmitz
Jason Flood has died twice in the last year-but that didn't stop the now 21-year-old aerobatic pilot from coming back to Oshkosh for this year's annual AirVenture fly-in and convention.
Flood had just returned home from AirVenture in 2011 when he went back to work as a banner-towing pilot. He doesn't remember much, however, about August 2 when his Bellanca crashed into a New Jersey field as he attempted to snag a banner.
First responders didn't even realize he was in the plane at first because it was so badly damaged. But a police officer leaned on the engine and saw his left hand.
Using Jaws of Life, emergency crews worked 40 minutes to extricate him from the wreckage. The last part to be freed was his left foot, crushed and stuck in place by the rudder pedals.
Once at the hospital, doctors would learn the then 20-year-old had multiple breaks and internal injuries. He broke his lower lumbar spine, right ankle, left heel bone, tibia, and femur. He also lost his left kidney and spleen, and lacerated his liver.
Most seriously, he tore his aorta.
He was transferred to a trauma hospital but before he arrived he flat-lined twice as paramedics worked to resuscitate him. Flood underwent 11 surgeries in four days, and spent 16 days in a coma and three weeks in a trauma center.
Once out, he underwent six months of rehabilitation.
Because of a tracheotomy, he couldn't talk. But the first thing he wrote for his parents was, 'I want to go back to Oshkosh.'
Flood said he's not sure why he didn't die. "God must have a plan for me, but I have no idea what it is," he said.
He is sure, however, that the plan involves aviation.
Predestined to fly
Aviation has been a big part of his life for as long as he can remember.
He soloed four airplanes on his 16th birthday and earned his private pilot certificate at 17, commercial rating at 18, and instrument rating at 19.
He currently has about 1,000 flying hours.
At 16, he started flying aerobatics, and at 18, he started entering aerobatic competitions. He said his father, Joe, taught him the basics of aerobatics, including loops and rolls.
But many of the other maneuvers have been self-taught.
It didn't take him long after the accident to get back in the air.
Flood took his first airplane ride in October, flew himself in November, and took his first aerobatic ride in January. In late June he entered his first aerobatic competition since the accident, taking second (out of nine) in the Intermediate Division.
Flood is confident that aerobatics saved his life. "The skills you learn flying aerobatics, such as flips and spins and how to recover, ultimately got me through," he said.
"It made me a better pilot."
While Flood doesn't know why the plane's engine quit almost one year ago, he does know that he was able to control the airplane for another 250 feet before it crashed into a field-versus a nearby tree line.
While Flood isn't giving up flying, he doesn't think he will tow banners again.
"But the passion I have for flying is still in my blood," he said. "I was careful before, but I'm even more conscientious now. Before I double- or triple-checked things; now I quadruple-check."
This fall, Flood will return to college to receive his associate's degree in aviation technology. He then plans to transfer and earn his bachelor's degree. His goal is to be a commercial pilot and to fly air shows-with competitions on the side...at least in the beginning.
"I'd love to be a top-notch guy like Sean Tucker," he said.