Wyoming Pilot Who Survives Two Near-Death Plane Mishaps Remains Devoted to the Skies
A young man from Afton who made national headlines last year for landing a plane on a bridge in New Jersey recovers from injuries after plane goes down in New Mexico
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jun 01, 2022
Landon Lucas takes a medical flight back to Wyoming following a plane crash in New Mexico that left him seriously injured. (Photo courtesy of Rita Lucas)
By Kristi Eaton
Special to the Wyoming Truth
It’s a tattoo on Landon Lucas’ wrist, and it’s what medical officials used to identify him as a passenger in a deadly plane crash in rural New Mexico in April. The “im” are crossed out, making it read “possible,” a sentiment that the 19-year-old who grew up in Wyoming is embracing as he regains bodily movement and starts to recover from the accident.
Lucas was alive but seriously injured when the Taylorcraft BL-65 plane crashed on April 9 near Counselor, N.M., according to a preliminary investigation report. The owner and pilot of the aircraft, 77-year-old Dalton Lofton, did not survive. Lofton had hired Landon to help start the plane at each point along the way from Wyoming to Texas.
“It began on April 9, when I got a phone call from an unknown number in Albuquerque, and I knew my son was flying in that area,” said Rita Lucas, Landon’s mother, in an in-depth interview with the Wyoming Truth. “Of course, I pulled over and braced for impact.”
The details of the aftermath were difficult for any mother to hear: The plane was in such horrible condition that Landon had to crawl to escape the wreckage and then passed out. He suffered more than a dozen fractures – including legs, pelvis, spine, ribs – and lost more than 10 teeth due to impact. Witnesses saw the accident and called for help.
The next 18 days were a blur, as Landon was heavily sedated and treated in the intensive care unit at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. He underwent several surgeries to repair his broken bones and an exploratory surgery to make sure there was no internal bleeding. After the surgeries in mid-April, Rita Lucas, a nurse, and Landon took a medical flight back to Afton, Wyoming, so Landon could recuperate at his home, which, he says, is more wheelchair-accessible than his family’s ranch in Jackson.
“I see photos of the plane, and I don’t understand how anyone could have survived it,” Rita Lucas said. “Neither does anyone else.”
The crash occurred at 12 p.m. Mountain Time on April 9 near Counselor, N.M., about 45 minutes after takeoff from Four Corners Regional Airport in Farmington, N.M., en route to Kerrville, Texas, the report stated, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board.
“The wreckage was located in a dirt field surrounded by sage brush at an elevation of about 7,100 ft mean sea level,” the report said. Further examination will take place.
This isn’t the first time Landon has been in the news for an aviation mishap. Last summer, while working a three-month job for Cape May Aerial Advertising, he made national headlines after he safely landed a small plane on a bridge of a causeway connecting Ocean City to Somers Point, N.J., following engine failure.
“I was just hanging out and doing what I usually do: I kind of just stare out at the people on the beach as I go up the beach, and I remember, [the engine] just immediately just shut off,” Landon Lucas told the Wyoming Truth in an interview, recalling the incident a year later.
Landon said he wasn’t fearful about returning to the sky following that incident, but that it “definitely felt a little weird.”
Landon’s love of aviation dates back to childhood. Growing up, he watched as planes soared over his family’s ranch in Jackson and enjoyed being a passenger in a family friend’s airplane, one that he believes may have come from a kit. “I couldn’t tell you what kind of kit it was or anything, but I remember [the friend] taking us flying and going over our house and how cool everything about it was,” he recalled.
When Landon was 14, his mom gifted him a discovery flight, which is typically a participatory flight with a certified instructor. He was hooked. “It’s just kind of cool being up there,” Landon said. “Not many people get to just stare down at the world. You’ve seen the world a million times from the ground, but who gets to go up and see everybody’s house from the sky?”
After the discovery flight, Landon wanted to become a certified pilot right away, but he was too young to get his license. The minimum age to get a private pilot’s license is 17. From that point on, he dedicated himself to aviation. At 16, he stopped going to public school and turned to online instruction so he could study aviation and also work to pay for it.
“And so aviation was the No. 1 thing from his 16th birthday,” Rita Lucas said. “He was able to get his license on his 17th birthday.” Landon did dual high school and college enrollment, and within days of his 18th birthday, he graduated with both a high school diploma and an associate degree in aeronautics from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.
Though Landon is a flight instructor for Afton Flight Services, he wasn’t providing instruction to Lofton on the flight that crashed in New Mexico. “[Lofton] more or less had me along to help start the airplane,” he said, “because the starting procedure for that airplane… it’s one person asked to stand outside the airplane and spin the propeller and get their hands out of the way right away as the propellers spin up – as the engine starts and the propeller starts to spin while you’re outside the airplane. It’s really a lot safer to have somebody inside the airplane who’s sitting on the brakes and could stop that airplane.”
Though Landon’s recovery process from the most recent incident is expected to take some time, he hopes to return to the sky eventually. For now, he spends his time watching “Yellowstone,” sleeping and, of course, watching airplanes soar overhead.
“I plan to go back and keep instructing,” he said. “It’s a really fun job to teach people how to fly – the kind of job where right now I miss going to work.”
But first, Landon has to recover. He was on his way for an abdominal X-ray after a phone interview, and he still needs to undergo dental surgery. But it’s unclear as to whether he will need other procedures to make a full recovery.
Still, Landon remains upbeat despite the physical, mental and emotional setback.
Call it making the impossible possible.