Recreational pilot makes extraordinary recovery after crash

Bowdoinham resident Jack White had been a recreational fixed wing pilot for a few years when he decided to learn to fly a helicopter. He had about 50 hours of helicopter time under his belt when he set off on his last solo flight one September day in 2019. He has no memory of that day but witnesses reported the helicopter was hovering at Sanford Municipal Airport when it started to spin out of control and crashed to the ground.

Within minutes the LifeFlight crew based at the airport heard radio traffic about a helicopter crash. They grabbed their equipment, which includes three units of blood, and headed to the crash site. After making sure that the wreckage was safe enough to approach, the flight crew extricated Jack from the helicopter and laid him in the field next to the runway.

Jack had suffered major trauma to his legs, face and head and was bleeding badly. Flight crew Mike McDonough and Greg Schneider identified his blood loss and precarious airway as the issues that needed to be addressed first. They immediately started giving him blood, immobilized his fractures and prepared to manage his airway. By this time an ambulance from Sanford Fire had arrived. With the LifeFlight helicopter undergoing maintenance that afternoon, the fastest way to get Jack to Maine Medical Center in Portland was by ambulance. The flight crew, along with their specialized equipment, accompanied Jack in the ambulance to provide care along the way.

Once they were on the road, the crew placed a breathing tube and connected him to a ventilator to protect his airway. The also gave him TXA, a special medication to help stop internal bleeding. At MMC, Jack underwent several surgeries to repair his broken bones. The impact of the crash broke both of his femurs, his left arm, ribs, foot, ankle, jaw, several bones in his face and fractured his skull.

Miraculously, he didn’t suffer any permanent damage to his brain. In the case of his femurs and his left arm, the bones weren’t just broken, but missing pieces. Surgeons installed hardware to replace the missing bone fragments and used a system of rods and magnets to help Jack’s bones regenerate. It’s a long and painful process, and Jack underwent his final two surgeries more than 14 months after his accident.

Today, Jack continues down the road to recovery, slowly working toward full mobility once again. Two things keep him motivated: getting back on his Harley-Davidson and being able to travel the world with his adult children. Until then, memories of past trips to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana, Europe, Turkey and China provide all the inspiration he needs.