What A Weekend, The P51 Went Through Mom's House!

Wife, Mother, and Great Person

All Of A Sudden We Get A Phone Call.... Turn On The TV

Sue and Paul were in the hot tub when the phone rang. We said to each other "What a relaxing weekend" so let's not answer the phone. For some reason, however, we did! It was my cousin Tom and all he said is "there has been an accident, turn on the news channel nine". We did and sure enough, there was Mom's house (what remained of it) and an airplane. If course, we took off to Santa Monica immediately.

From Santa Monica Airport Wikipedia entry "On Labor Day weekend in 1989, a P-51 Mustang crashed into a home on Wade Street near Brooklake Street in Mar Vista. The pilot and passenger were both injured."

The pilot was Bob Guilford - "He was flying a P-51 on Memorial Day weekend in 1989 when the engine failed and the plane crashed into a house near Santa Monica. Guilford broke both his legs, but no one on the ground was hurt. Both Guilford and the plane eventually took to the skies again."

The world is indeed small!!! Sue went to school with a guy who is an airplane buff and knew the pilot of the P51 that hit Mom's home!

The Story From Sally Swift's (The Sister Of Judy Guilford) Blog...

LA Times aerial photo of the crash site, firefighters spraying foam during rescue..

"His nose was up, but he was coming down. When I saw that, I said, 'he's in trouble.'" Bill Fulco, crash witness

"The engine was still running, but just as I lost sight of the plane, there was a deadly silence. So I knew it was going down." Sonya, Beebe, crash witness

Statistically, airplane crashes are extremely rare, but when they happen, they're almost always deadly. The USAirways plane crash Thursday, already dubbed "Miracle on the Hudson," was truly miraculous in that all crew and passengers survived.

The people on that plane, already telling their amazing and terrifying stories, and those sure to follow in the coming days, have much reason to rejoice. They lived to share their extraordinary personal tales.

I didn't know anyone on that plane. But we are far too familiar with plane crashes in our family. My sister's husband was killed in a plane crash two and a half years ago.

Incredibly, he and my sister had survived another plane crash together 17 years earlier. We could have called it "Miracle on Somebody's House." The picture up top shows them being rescued from that crash. Here's the story.

The Call

Labor Day weekend, 1989. Husband, Son and I were at the Jersey shore soaking up the last days of summer. Family, friends, the usual crew. Glorious weather. What could be better?

Then I got that call. The one that sucks your breath from your chest, churns your stomach into clay, white-knuckles your hand around the phone. The one that sits you down and then has you up pacing, only to sit again.

You have to speak calmly, ask the right questions, get the important information. You're afraid to hear the answers. Regardless, you've got to be stronger than the person making that call.

In this case the person on the other end of the phone that weekend was my nephew, calling from LA to tell me his mother--my older sister Judy--and her husband Bob had been in a plane crash. A really bad one. Right in front of his eyes. Ghastly. Horrific.

Judy and Bob, both licensed pilots and vintage airplane enthusiasts took off from Santa Monica airport on an equally beautiful day in a friend's World War II P-51 Mustang. You know them from old movies. They have Plexiglas canopies. You can see the pilots inside, one behind the other.

The Crash

My brother-in-law was at the controls, my sister co-piloting in the rear seat. Her son was watching from the ground as he'd done countless times, a little annoyed that day because he was learning to fly and had wanted to go in her place.

They lifted off, began to climb into the clear blue sky and suddenly, like a bolt out of the blue, an actual bolt flew off the engine and into the propeller. Then, adding to the nightmare, birds followed. The plane spiraled out of control as my brother-in-law fought to keep it aloft.

Horribly, gravity prevailed. The plane rolled, rolled again, and crashed on top of a house next to the airport.

Dozens of onlookers rushed to the scene from the airport, including my nephew. An airport fire truck arrived first. And stopped the would-be rescuers in their tracks, pulling them away from the house where the crippled plane lay smoking. A large, deadly spill of airplane fuel was pooling around the perimeter.

The Rescue

Judy being rescued

The danger was enormous, the risk huge. The house, the plane and it's injured--dead?--occupants were surrounded by a moat of petrol that could explode into a fireball at any moment.

As often happens in such situations, ordinary heroes rise to the occasion. A fellow pilot--a Vietnam veteran--broke free, waded through the foam being sprayed on the fuel and climbed up through the smashed house to the plane. My nephew, galvanized by fear and desperation, followed. Together they managed to pry open part of the canopy.

Can any of us imagine watching our own mother's plane crash, then crawling onto the burning wreckage to attempt a rescue, hoping against hope it's not instead a grisly recovery?

They say mothers will do anything to save their children. I'm here to tell you, children can do the same when the situation's reversed.

As it turned out, the two elderly sisters who owned the house were thankfully, blessedly, not at home -- they were out walking their dog. (That was mom and aunt Kaye... They had just left the house to get a hamburger at their favorite joint a few miles away!)

The Aftermath

Miraculously, my sister and her husband were alive. Barely. Both unconscious, bleeding, battered. Judy's seat belt had broken and thrown her forward into Bob's seat. His belt held, but that kind of impact is literally more powerful than a speeding locomotive. He was thrown forward into the controls. So his legs were shattered. Along with his pelvis.

Judy's injuries were much worse. All of her ribs were broken. All. Of. Them. Both collarbones too. One shoulder. One arm. Both lungs were punctured. Her liver and spleen damaged. Her face ... no, I can't.

And the next day I was on a plane--USAirways--to LA. I didn't even think about the ... what? ... weirdness of that. I just went. Because my sister's life was on the line. Because my nephew and his younger sister were flipped out, unable to cope with the myriad details and decisions of trauma management. And because that's what you do for family.

We have many side stories of healing and dealing, now part of family lore.

One you'll appreciate: we learned after the fact that the genius who repaired Judy's shattered face so brilliantly was Michael Jackson's personal plastic surgeon. (And no, she looks nothing like Jacko). 

Judy and Bob both survived. It took them almost a year to fully recover. Memories faded. Wounds healed. Life went on. Until it didn't.