Face of Defense: Pilot Flies Again After Highway Crash
By Air Force Airman 1st Class Jimmie D. Pike
47th Flying Training Wing
LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas, May 2, 2014 Her career seemed ruined, her dreams grounded.
Air Force 1st Lt. Laura Jones poses for a photo after preparing for a flight April 21, 2014, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. Jones was involved in an automobile accident Jan. 2, 2014, that kept her from flying for three months. Jones is a 85th Flying Training Squadron T-6A Texan II instructor pilot. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jimmie D. Pike
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"At the beginning, I thought I'd never fly again," Air Force 1st Lt. Laura Jones said, recalling her Jan. 2 accident.
On her way from San Antonio International Airport back to base, a car next to her had a tire blow out. The driver lost control and swerved into Jones's vehicle traveling at about 75 mph, she said.
"Shortly after, a passing National Guardsman arrived, held my neck to immobilize and keep me from damaging my cervical spine and talked to me until the paramedics arrived," said Jones, a T-6 Texan instructor pilot from the 85th Flying Training Squadron. "It all happened pretty quickly -- from getting hit to the helicopter taking me to San Antonio Military Medical Center, only a couple of hours had passed. I maintained consciousness the entire time."
Jones suffered broken bones and other injuries during the collision -- injuries that grounded her flying career.
"The accident left me with a shattered left femur, lacerations on my kidney and spleen, my right wrist was broken in four places, my jaw was broken in two places, and my lungs were bruised, among other scrapes," Jones said. "After I heard there were no neck, spine or eye injuries, I knew I would be flying soon enough."
The accident was followed by 11 days in the hospital and several grueling months of physical therapy and rehabilitation.
"We started her with basic range-of-motion exercises to work up to light weights and ensure she didn't overwork herself," said Kira Pie, a physical therapy assistant. "We now have her going through impact workouts, like skipping, to get her body adjusted to the feel of pressure on the joints and bones."
Even though her body was aching and her workouts were strenuous, Jones worked through the difficulties with a single goal: to return to flying.
"My main concern was when I would be able fly again," she said. "When I talked to the flight doctors, they said I'd be shooting to fly again in June. I was bummed that it would take so long. After I started progressing so quickly, I knew I could fly sooner."
Jones' hard work and dedication in physical therapy paid off April 21, when she had her first flight since the accident and felt as if things had gone well.
"The flight went great. I knocked off a lot of rust and have my confidence back," Jones said. "I felt better than I expected I would."
Jones' group commander took notice and commended Jones for her initiative.
"The fact that she is flying this soon after an accident that should have been fatal is testament to her hard work, determination and desire to fly," said Air Force Col. Timothy MacGregor, the 47th Operations Group commander. "She belongs here as a first-assignment instructor pilot to teach the students what it means to be a pilot in the world's greatest Air Force."
Jones' next step is preparing to take the reins as an instructor once again.
"I'm hoping to be back flying with students in the next week," Jones said. "The only obstacle at this point is coming off a four-month break and getting proficient in every maneuver so I can be the best instructor possible."
As Jones works toward instructing again, she remembers why she has worked so hard in the first place.
"I was one of the kids who always knew they wanted to be a pilot," she said. "I grew up around Air Force jets; I knew that's where I belonged. Now, I'm looking forward to being one of the Tigers again. This is the best squadron I could ask for."