In a matter of minutes, Theodore Wright went from piloting a plane to calmly filming the aftermath of a harrowing crash into the Gulf of Mexico on an iPad.
Wright, 27, and his good friend, Raymond Fosdick, 36, spoke with David Gregory on TODAY Wednesday about their ordeal. They shot the video while waiting to be rescued, only minutes after making an emergency landing when the plane caught fire during a flight from Baytown, Texas, to Sarasota, Fla., on Sept. 20.
“There was some fear involved, but it wasn’t enough to overpower our patience,’’ Fosdick said.
“Training is a big part of it,’’ Wright said. “No pun intended, you kind of go into autopilot in those situations and just run through the procedures.’’Video: Pilot records crash aftermath, rescue on iPad (on this page)
The two were flying in a Beechcraft 55 Baron to Florida to meet a client of Fosdick’s when smoke began to fill the cockpit. What appeared to be a minor issue became a major one in a hurry.Story: Love is in the air: Pilot proposes after fake emergency
“We see a little bit of smoke, which typically is not a huge deal,’’ Wright said. “Usually a radio will smoke a little, you throw the electrical power off, (and) everything‘s fine. I make a quick radio call to Houston (air-traffic control) center and told them we had a problem. Before I finished the radio call, we were just covered in smoke.’’
When it became apparent that the plane was going down, Wright had to navigate a tricky situation. If the plane hit the water too fast, it would shear into pieces, but if he took too long to bring the plane down, the two men might be consumed by the fire. Wright activated an emergency beacon and then cut the plane’s electrical power to try and stop the fire.
“Those decisions were being made pretty synonymous and pretty quickly between the two of us,’’ Fosdick said. “That’s pretty much what saved our lives was being able to recognize the aircraft’s loss, and now it’s just save ourselves.’’
The planed skidded to a halt in the Gulf of Mexico, and the two survived without any major injuries. Fosdick grabbed two life vests and survival gear, while Wright took his iPad, which had been sealed in a LifeProof waterproof case.Story: Six inches under: Rescued puppy found buried alive
“Neither one of us was screaming, there was no praying, there was no thinking the world is coming to an end,’’ Fosdick told NBC News. “By the time I could reach down and undo my seatbelt, the water was up to my butt in the aircraft.’’
The two exited the wreckage of the plane and began floating in a raft. That's when Wright turned on the iPad and began filming their wait to be rescued.
“About hour one I realized we had (the iPad),’’ Wright said. “You get kind of lonely out there. We ran out of out of things to talk about, so we made a quick video.’’
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“Fear definitely plays a role,’’ Fosdick told Gregory. “I won’t lie and say I didn’t have any fear. It was definitely back there. However, because of experience and because we’ve been in stressful situations, we were both remaining calm, and you begin looking at your options, even though they’re very bleak and grim out there.’’
The pair admittedly became nervous as the sun began to set after three hours in the water.
“People ask us, ‘were you worried?’’’ Wright said. “We weren’t worried at all. We knew they had three position devices that could find us. When the first aircraft passed over our heads and they didn’t see us, and we’re waving, we’re waving, and they still don’t see us, we’re watching the sunset. The second aircraft shows up, they don’t see us, (then) yes, we’re starting to get nervous.’’
“You’re in the middle of nowhere,’’ Fosdick said. “We did spot an oil rig over the horizon. It becomes one of those things of, ‘OK, If it gets dark and they leave, what are we going to do?’’’Story: Umpire who saved woman with CPR: ‘Instinct took over’
Luckily, they never had to find out. About 20 minutes before sunset, they were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter. Their aviation issues weren't over, though. Wright flew another plane to New York for his appearance on TODAY but was diverted by weather to Allentown, Pa., and then again to Harrisburg, because of mechanical difficulties.
“I’m wondering what I did to deserve all this,’’ Wright joked about his latest flight. “Very minor compared to our story in the Gulf. I would say the Gulf incident was pretty scary. Being on fire, there’s nothing like that.’’Story: Injured baseball player on big-league dreams: ‘I'm not done’
Before the plane went down in the Gulf, Wright had plans to fly it around the world next year to benefit the Around The World for Life program that provides dream flights to children with cancer. He told Gregory that he already has another aircraft secured so can participate in the program next year.
“Nothing is changed except the tail number, so we will continue,’’ Wright said.
The adventurous duo will keep flying, they said.
“I have no hesitation climbing into another aircraft whatsoever,’’ Fosdick told NBC News. “My wife, on the other hand, does not want me to do much.’’
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