I Survived a Plane Crash That Killed 137 Others, Including My Dad. That Was Just the Beginning. (Exclusive)

Richard Laver remembers the horror of the 1985 Delta 191 crash, when he was 12 — and how he lived.

<p>Michelle Laver; AP Photo/Carlos Osorio</p> Richard Laver, left, was sitting in the tail section of the Delta jet shown on the right<p>Michelle Laver; AP Photo/Carlos Osorio</p> Richard Laver, left, was sitting in the tail section of the Delta jet shown on the right

Michelle Laver; AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Richard Laver, left, was sitting in the tail section of the Delta jet shown on the right

Richard Laver was not yet a teenager when he became the youngest survivor of the 1985 Delta 191 crash that killed his father, tennis coach Ian Laver, and 136 other passengers, crew and the driver of a vehicle struck by the descending plane.

Richard’s survival was only the beginning of his story: The cousin of Australian tennis great Rod Laver, he grappled with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even brief homelessness before turning his life around. Now 51, the married father of five lives in Park City, Utah. 

Here is his story, told to PEOPLE’s Susan Young, in his own words.

I’m one of the few people in history that has ever been thrown from an exploding jumbo plane and lived. The Federal Aviation Administration called my survival impossible.

I was 12 years old and a top junior tennis player. My family was living in Delray, Florida, and my father was taking me to a junior tournament in San Diego. I had been having dreams two days prior of a plane crash. I told my mom, Kerry, “It’s not only a bad feeling. I know it’s going to crash.”

She said that was a one-in-a-million chance. It was never going to happen.

<p>Bettmann Archive/Getty</p> Texas Governor Mark White (L) and other officials tour the wreckage of Delta Flight 191 that went down wile attempting a landing in bad weather 8/2 at the Dallas Fort Worth regional Airport.<p>Bettmann Archive/Getty</p> Texas Governor Mark White (L) and other officials tour the wreckage of Delta Flight 191 that went down wile attempting a landing in bad weather 8/2 at the Dallas Fort Worth regional Airport.

Bettmann Archive/Getty

Texas Governor Mark White (L) and other officials tour the wreckage of Delta Flight 191 that went down wile attempting a landing in bad weather 8/2 at the Dallas Fort Worth regional Airport.

We were the last people to get on the plane that day. As we flew over Dallas, about halfway into the trip, I looked over to my right and saw a storm cell out the window, dark and foreboding. My father didn’t seem to be concerned: He was drinking a rum and coke and smoking a cigarette, laughing as he watched a cowboy film.

And then the world started to slow down. I felt that something could be wrong. I went to the bathroom and threw water on my face, and I looked in the mirror and I knew — right then — that the plane was going to crash. I knew it.

My internal voice said, “Don’t put your seatbelt on.” I listened. And I put a blanket on my lap so the flight attendants wouldn’t see.

What happened next made headlines around the country: The plane hit a wind shear as part of a microburst in the storm. It felt like an elevator dropping from the hundredth floor to the first. Mayhem erupted on the plane, and everyone was screaming. The plane never quite made it to the runway, instead hitting several water towers before being consumed by an explosion like a mushroom cloud. 

Everybody in my aisle died, as did almost everyone else on the plane.

But I flew out through the explosion and landed in a nearby field, whipped by 70 mph winds. Golf-ball sized hail was hitting me. My face had been burned. I couldn’t move or speak. I couldn’t yell for help. I later learned that I was ejected from the plane at almost 300 mph — 50 yards through the air

<p>Richard Laver</p> From left to right, Ian Laver, Richard Laver and Rod Laver<p>Richard Laver</p> From left to right, Ian Laver, Richard Laver and Rod Laver

Richard Laver

From left to right, Ian Laver, Richard Laver and Rod Laver

As I lay there, the water kept rising around me as a result of the storm, drenching the field. I started to sort of spit out water. I thought I was going to drown because I couldn’t move or speak. This guy pulled his truck over on the side of the freeway. He cut through the wire fence and yanked me out of the water. He said to me, “You’re going to be okay, son.”

I was helicoptered to Parkland Memorial’s burn unit, and if there was ever a God, it was needed in those halls because it was screaming after screaming from the other crash survivors, so many of whom were heavily burned.

I remember at one point my mother coming in and I said, “How about that one-in-a-million chance?” And she said, “We’re going to know what your purpose for your life is one day.”

She was right. We were going to find my purpose. I just didn’t think it was going to be out of the Book of Job.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

I had a hard time emotionally healing from all of the trauma. My early 20s [were] where I couldn’t keep a job and things were just sort of up and down for me, depression, some anxiety, PTSD. Through my teen years, I felt that life could change in an instant and it took away my innocence. I couldn’t stay in the present. I was always looking at life like anything could go wrong quickly.

By the time I was 27 years old, I had given up and I really didn’t have a lot of hope. I just wanted it to end. It felt as though nothing had really worked in my life. I didn’t have money to pay my rent. I had no car. I could have called people, but I needed to do surgery on my soul first.

So I slept on the beach for 40 days. I had a bank account, about $200, but depleted that in the first 10 days. Because people knew me and my family was relatively well-known, the bar across the street let me eat at the happy hour.

My last night on the beach, I went down on my knees and had a visceral scream. It was a release. It represented releasing all the anguish and pain. It released a person who knew he would never give up. I called my sister and she got me a plane ticket. I moved to California and was a tennis pro at a club in Palm Springs, where I met the love of my life. Michelle had three children and was going through a divorce. I gave her my business card to teach her kids lessons.

Things were looking up.

<p>Lucky Energy Co</p> Left to right Richard Laver and Michelle Laver with his Lucky Energy drink<p>Lucky Energy Co</p> Left to right Richard Laver and Michelle Laver with his Lucky Energy drink

Lucky Energy Co

Left to right Richard Laver and Michelle Laver with his Lucky Energy drink

We had a child together, a daughter. But soon after, the doctors came to us and said Katie had suffered a stroke in utero. What ended up happening was I was a happy father with a daughter with cerebral palsy. There was one more challenge: She kept losing weight.

I knew if I lost Katie, that was the final bullet. I was not going to make it. I knew by saving Kate, I would also be saving myself.

Kate became hypoallergenic to dairy and soy and couldn’t absorb the nutrients. She was on 3,000 calories a day and could not gain weight. My theory was to get rid of the mucus that was forming so she could get those nutrients. I created a plant-based formula, and I initially called it “Kate’s cream.”

She went down to 1,600 calories a day on the formula and gained weight. Within 30 days, she was off 90% of her medications. She’s turning 18 in July and has never been sick. I started Kate Farms and and it became the No. 1 recommended plant-based formula company in the world, and it’s now saved a lot of kids and families from the anguish that we went through.

My whole life was as a bit of an outsider rebel. I wanted to tell that story through a clean energy drink and redefine luck. It’s not a lottery ticket, it’s not sitting in a casino. It’s perseverance, never giving up. I wanted to celebrate the human struggle through Lucky Energy.

<p>Michelle Laver</p> Richard Laver with daughter Katie<p>Michelle Laver</p> Richard Laver with daughter Katie

Michelle Laver

Richard Laver with daughter Katie

My story is a guy survives a plane crash, saves his daughter’s life and it’s a wonderful life. But I wanted to tell a last story, about a guy who gets lucky. It’s not a beverage company to me. It tells the story about never giving up and believing in yourself.

When tragedy strikes, your life is not over. It’s just getting started. There’s a purpose for all of these things. You just have to dig deep to get there.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.

Source link

Similar Articles

Comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Instagram

Most Popular