US Army(MIAMI) — They’re the Army’s elite parachute team, jumping thousands of feet in perfect daredevil formations into air shows, festivals and sporting events all across the country.
Largely made up of former combat soldiers, the Golden Knights are considered the “best of the best.”
But on Feb. 12, during a low altitude night jump at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, the unthinkable happened.
The parachutes of two soldiers became tangled and collapsed during what is referred to as “canopy relative work.” Despite activating a reserve parachute, the Knights started spinning approximately 2,500 feet into the ground.
When they crash landed, their teammates immediately started administering life-saving care. The most critically injured of the soldiers was Sergeant First Class Richard “Dick” Young, who was barely conscious.
“I was on the telephone, calling 911. And then at that point, it was just a matter of making sure that our team was responding as appropriately as we could with what we had with us on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Ned Marsh, commander of the Golden Knights.
“I spent some time with Dick, talking to him, trying to motivate him, giving him a little bit of direction, and trying to give him some motivation to sort of fight through the situation,” he told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz during a recent exclusive interview at the Knight’s headquarters at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Young was medevaced to Ryder Trauma Center and in the operating room in about 20 minutes, Marsh said.
Young had broken his right leg, two toes, all but one rib and his jaw. He also shattered his pelvis, knocked out two teeth and fractured his cervical spine and skull.
He ruptured his diaphragm, too, and had lacerations to every internal organ.
Young’s wife of nine years, Trina, remembers getting the predawn call and immediately knew something was wrong.
“The morning of, I woke up to my phone ringing at 5:00,” she told ABC News. “And his medic was calling me. As soon as I saw her number I knew instantly, there’s no other reason she would call me.”
Trina Young flew from Fort Bragg with their two young children, a son and daughter, to the trauma center in time to see her husband come out of emergency surgery for the first time.
“It was rough. It was the final reality check that this was real life,” she recalled.
“This wasn’t a dream,” she added. “This was him.”
Doctors placed Young in a medically induced coma, warning his wife that he was unlikely to survive.
Trina Young wanted the kids to say goodbye to their father before sending them to live with their grandparents while she stayed by her husband’s side.
“I wanted them to be able to see one last time,” she said. “They said they missed him and they loved him.
“And they just told him that they couldn’t wait to see him again. And they left,” she added. “Kids are resilient, a lot more resilient than I think any of us give him credit for.”
Despite the circumstances, Trina Young said she had faith that Young would pull through.
“It was just pretty much knowing him and the kind of person he is and how dedicated he is, how much he loves his children and his family,” she said. “I couldn’t really imagine him not making it.”
After two months in the coma, Young finally woke up.
He doesn’t remember anything from the accident or the entire day preceding it. And when he woke up, he remembers not being able to move or talk.
“I didn’t know where I was,” he said. “So that was a very scary feeling at first.”
It would be the beginning of the long road to recovery, including hours of physical therapy.
The Golden Knights average one injury for every 1,000 jumps, and the team averages about 18,000 jumps per year, according to statistics provided to ABC News by the Army. But the rate for serious accidents like Young’s is even rarer: just five accidents over the last 10 years.
“There’s an inherent danger to our business,” Marsh said.
“We’re asked to do a hard mission,” he added. “Our purpose is to go out and inspire Americans to support trust and join the U.S. Army. If there isn’t a little bit of courageous thrill associated with that, it doesn’t work.
“Can you eliminate all the risk? No. We plan for it, we prepare for it, make sure we’re ready for the worst case scenario. We try to make sure that it never happens,” he added. “But when it does, we learn from our mistakes, and we move on, and we continue to execute the mission because that’s what our nation asks us to do.”
But Young’s experience won’t keep him out of the skies.
“I can’t wait to jump out of a plane,” he told ABC News.
“Once you get that first catch or free fall, you just want to get back to it. So I will definitely be back in the air again,” he said.
“It might not be as a Golden Knight because unfortunately, now medically, I don’t meet the requirements to stay in the Army. So [the Army is] going to get me better, and then I’m going to take a retirement and go hang out and spend time with my kids and my wife,” Young continued.
Asked about how she feels about that jump, Trina Young laughed.
“I mean, what I think most of the time doesn’t really factor in too much,” she said, adding, “But he’s experienced.”
“The Army trained him. He pretty much learned to jump in the military,” she continued. “So they trained him pretty well. So I have confidence that he’ll be alright.”
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Powered by WPeMatico