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The Saving of NASCAR’s Jack Roush
It was Friday evening, and Larry and Donna Hicks were about to watch the 6 o’clock news in their beach house in Palos Verdes Estates outside of Troy, Alabama. Hicks was a 52-year-old retired Sergeant Major with the Marines, now working as Alabama’s state security inspector. He had gotten home from work half an hour earlier, and he and Donna had discussed going to the movies, but decided against it.
The TV show had just begun, when he looked out the window and saw a small plane flying over the shores of Palos Verdes Lake.
“I wonder if they know about the power cables,” said Larry, as the plane suddenly lurched, lurched, and plunged into the ocean. Hicks was already out the back door when the plane hit the water, yelling after his wife, “Call 911! I’ll see if I can help the pilot.”
Fortunately, Larry’s brother, Wayne, had left a 14-foot aluminum johnboat, with an electric trolling motor, on the lake in preparation for the day’s fishing, so he was nowhere to be seen. Donna called 911, and ran outside in time to see Larry leading the johnboat, heading for the Air-Cam, which was about 100 yards from shore.
A few years earlier, when Hicks was stationed at the Marine Air Corps station in Iwakuni, Japan, he spent two and a half months, briefly, in the intensive Search and Rescue program. Officials made him take part because they thought Hicks would do well because he was fit and athletic. The training involved rescuing pilots who had gone down in water in fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft. Hicks learned how to extricate pilots who crashed upside down. However, he remained in the interview group, and did not have the opportunity to use his special education.
The Air-Cam engine was hot when it hit Palos Verdes Lake, and the plane was smoking in the water. The high octane fuel from the explosion tank floats to the surface and creates an oily texture. The rear half of the plane and the broken wing were sticking out of the water. Hicks got out of the boat and went to the wing and attached a rope to the plane to keep the boat from floating. The strong smell of gas hit his nostrils. It was only after some time that he thought about the danger of the plane.
The water was murky, and Hicks was having trouble getting his water under the water. The plane had crashed in the middle of the underwater “stump”, but luckily it had missed any trees. The first time on the ground, Hicks escaped and was forced to return to the surface without finding the pilot. Again, he felt the back of the man’s neck under his hand. After another trip to the top, he took a deep breath, and came down a third time.
Larry’s military training—the repetition of what to do until it became second nature—took place: “Get the Pilot, Release the Pilot…” Hicks heard the pilot’s belt; Fortunately, it was one he had learned by hearing from his military training. He unbuckled the belt, and the pilot floated in his arms. Hicks swam ashore, pulling the man with him. The pilot had bones stuck in his legs, and his feet were turning the wrong way.
The man was bleeding from his nose and mouth, and he was not breathing. He had drowned. The Troy police had arrived at the lake now. Larry yelled at the officers, “He’s not breathing,” and heard one officer say to another, “He’s dead.”
Hicks pulled the man to the front of the wing that sticks out above the water and placed a modified Heimlich maneuver under his ribs and climbed up to drain the fluid from his lungs, then began modified CPR. The poor man coughed up water and blood, then in the cold air, he began to breathe. “I’ve got him breathing again,” Hicks yelled to the rescue team on the beach.
Hicks grabbed the plane’s wing with his left hand, lying on his back in the water, supporting the pilot on his chest with his right hand to keep his head above water. He experienced severe pain from the jet fuel, which worsened to the point of excruciating pain. Then he realized that his skin was burnt.
The rescue team took out another boat, put the pilot on his back and floated him to shore. Larry tried to follow the four rescuers as they exited the lake, but his legs failed. He and the pilot were taken to Troy Hospital.
While Hicks was being treated for gasoline burns on his upper body, he heard helicopters coming to take the pilot to the University of Alabama Medical Center in Birmingham. After a decontamination bath, Hicks was released.
Word was heard immediately that a light plane crashed, piloted by the famous Jack Roush, NASCAR and Winston Cup car owner since 1988. A lover of aviation, Roush’s friends arranged for him to fly the Air-Cam, a specially built special plane. for photography, as a birthday present.
Roush was initially placed on a ventilator, with the trauma team working on him. They doused him with gasoline and he suffered head injuries, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken left leg, and broken ankles. He had no memory of anything from the time of the accident to when he was rushed to the hospital over the weekend.
Amazingly, six days after the accident, Roush was running his business over the phone from his hospital bed. By Sunday, he had arranged for Larry and Donna to fly to Birmingham, Alabama, to see him.
Six weeks later, Roush flew from his home in Michigan and circled the stick at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware, managing his four-car Winston Cup team. Larry and Donna were by his side.
Larry Hicks has no doubt that a Higher Power was at work in the miraculous rescue of Jack Roush. If the Air-Cam had hit the main power lines instead of the utility wires as it did, the plane would have gone down in flames. Had it fallen to the ground or hit a tree in the underwater stump field where it landed, Roush would have been killed instantly. If Larry and Donna had gone to the movies that night, as they had discussed, or just stayed on the other side of the house, they would not have seen the plane go down, and Jack Roush would have died. If Wayne Hicks had not left the johnboat ready to go, there would have been no salvation.
But, most amazing of all, Hicks was one of the few people who had the special knowledge needed to save a pilot in a spiraling plane from a watery grave. And, another thing that was necessary to save Jack’s life, is that Hicks is a man of action who did not hesitate to put himself in danger to save the life of a stranger.
Larry Hicks has been recognized with many honors for his heroic rescue of Jack Roush, including the Marine Corps Medal of Heroism, the Carnegie Award for Heroism from the Carnegie Foundation, the Kiwanis International Robert P. Connally Medal for Heroism, and the American Society of Sons of the Revolution Medal. for Heroism. The rescue story appeared inside People magazineand Larry and Jack were on the cover NASCAR icon.
Larry takes great pride in having followed the United States Marine Corps Code to serve his country with Honor, Courage, and Devotion, and volunteer service.
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