In May 2012, California fire captain Brian Brown planned to fly to Mountain Home to visit his oldest daughter with his wife, Jayann, and their youngest daughter, Heather.
Brown has been flying planes since he was 16 years old, but he’s never experienced what happened to him on that May day last year.
He switched roles from rescuer to victim after a patch of unexpected weather sent their plane into the side of a mountain. “I was very much engaged in the mindset of a rescuer out there but honestly I was very scared, I was very scared for our lives I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it,” Brown said.
“The air speed was at about 110 and it dropped to 40 in just a snap of a finger, and so I told the girls I said, ‘I’m sorry I don’t think we’re going to make it, I love you,’” Brown said. “And I put the nose of the plane down into the canyon to try to rebuild air speed, and right before we hit I got air speed back, I flared the nose back up, but we hit two trees with the wing tips and then slammed belly first into the mountain side.”
Brian and his wife Jayann were both knocked unconscious after hitting the wind shield. Upon waking up, Brian feared the worst.
“I actually thought I’d killed Jayann , she was so bad at first that I thought I killed her,” Brown said. “[She] was falling out of the airplane, the door had ripped off on impact, she was basically laying limp like a rag doll […] so I reached over and grabbed her shirt and when I pulled her back in her eyes were rolled into the back of her head and she had deep snoring respirations, so it’s a sign of a very serious head injury and she may not make it.”
Brian was able to put his fire rescue skills to work, and helped his wife regain consciousness.
Hours later, they were able to get what Brian calls “rogue cell phone service” in the isolated mountains and their daughter Heather called 911.
“Hi I’m in airplane and I crashed… and I’m in the mountains,” Heather told dispatch. “I need you to send a search party please.”
Heather called roll every ten minutes that night to keep her parents from falling unconscious.
Early the next morning, Brian heard a helicopter fly overhead, grabbed his cell phone and flashed photos to grab their attention. The family spent 15 hours stranded in the snow covered canyon before rescue crews located them.
The Browns have stayed in touch with members of their rescue team, and were thrilled to see some of the crew show up to their book signing at the Boise Barnes and Noble.
Brian worked with Eileen Chambers for a year on “Rescue: One Family’s Miraculous Story of Survival” and the book is on shelves now.