Matt Fandler is the pilot who had to abandon his burning plane after it collided with another single-engine craft at 12,000 feet, an accident in Wisconsin last weekend that grabbed international headlines for a good reason — everybody survived, including nine skydivers and the other pilot.
Fandler is set to share his recollections with Matt Lauer in an exclusive Dateline interview airing Friday at 8 p.m. (Along a couple of “selfie” photos of his blood-spattered face just after he hit the ground to visually document his escape from almost certain death.)
“And all of a sudden I hear this loud bang,” Fandler says. “I didn’t see anything…I just heard a bang and the windshield immediately shattered.”
His aircraft’s wing ripped off and its gas tank blew up underneath, causing the fire, and the Cessna locked into an “uncontrolled descent.”
“I was staring straight ahead. And the first thing I remember thinking is that I need to regain control of this airplane,” Fandler, 23, recounted.
“And I immediately pulled the yoke back to my chest and pulled it back as far as I possibly could. And there was no reaction from the airplane.
“I began to pick up more and more airspeed. And I realize that I have no control of this aircraft. And probably thought it was in my best interest to not be in this aircraft.”
While Fandler was wearing a parachute, skydiving wasn’t his forte — he had only two tandem jumps under his belt.
But he had little choice.
So Fandler pulled together all the tidbits he could remember from his pair of jumps, arched his body, and dove headfirst into thin air.
One of the things he remembered was to not deploy his chute right away — which meant he had to get through a good 7,000 feet of freefalling, hoping his rip cord would obey orders when pulled, before arriving at the recommended 4,000 to 5,000 feet for safe parachuting, NBC reports.
Fandler said he landed hard somewhere near the runway, somersaulting until his body finally stopped moving.
He was alive.
To mark an occasion he wouldn’t soon forget (but did so because he said he wouldn’t have believed what happened to him otherwise), he needed a photo.
“I didn’t have a mirror or anything, so I asked the police officer if he wanted to take a photo of me,” he told NBC’s Dateline. “He gave me a really weird look, so I decided to take it myself.”
The photos shows his face spattered with blood from the shards of glass that flew off the Cessna’s shattered windshield. Fandler also had serious cuts on his hands requiring 25 stitches.
Like the skydivers who all survived the ordeal, Fandler isn’t using the experience as a hint to quit piloting planes. Rather, he says, he wants to go bigger and faster one day.
“I really feel confident in my ability to be safe as a pilot,” he told Dateline. “And I know what I can control. And I know what I cannot control.”
Barry Sinnex told Lauer on the Today show this week that during his own freefall he tried to “chase” Fandler’s plane after it caught fire to see if the pilot was okay; then when Sinnex witnessed Fandler jump, he continued his midair chase to make sure the inexperienced skydiver would be able to open his chute.
Check out the clip from Fandler’s interview: