In Focus

Political analyst recalls plane crash, shares struggles

Thursday, December 09, 2010

It's nothing short of a miracle that Court Koenning survived when the plane he was piloting crashed. Now, he's sharing his story of surviving and how he's going on with life after the crash.

You may be more familiar with Court Koenning from his work as one of the political analysts for Eyewitness News. But away from politics, he was a small plane pilot -- and almost died in a crash this summer.

It's been three and a half months and his recovery is nothing short of amazing. But he says he's struggling with the reasons for his own recovery.

"Somebody much higher, where we can't explain it, made a decision that it wasn't my time," Court Koenning said.

After 99 days, he still couldn't figure it all out.

"Why am I standing here on the spot where I should've lost my life?" Court Koenning said.

Koenning is OK and getting better, but struggling to make sense of the night could've killed him.

"This is a miracle," eyewitness Cathy Gibbs said.

Court Koenning flew all the time.

"I've been flying for 20 years," he said. "Loved it, loved it."

And as much as he loved it, his wife Dawn Koenning dreaded it.

"I think I cried the entire first flight," she said.

She found an uncomfortable peace with her husband's hobby, but meticulously tracked his every flight -- up until August 23.

"I haven't seen him yet, I haven't heard from him, he should have been home by now," Dawn Koenning recalled.

"When I touched down and I bounced -- and then the plane would not settle down," Court Koenning said.

His wife was right to worry. That night, the landing he'd made dozens of times went bad.

"I remember telling the plane, 'Climb baby climb' as I was going up. I remember trees slapping the bottom of the plane. I remember saying 'God Save Me,' and I remember a loud boom," he said.

"When that prop hit that tree, crap just flew everywhere," eyewitness Bill Porter said. "It was a pitiful mess. I figured he was dead."

His plane was nose down, upside down in Joey Branstetter's backyard.

"I didn't want to move him that far because I didn't want to hurt him anymore, but I just got him out of the plane," Branstetter said.

The plane sliced trees on the way down, missing Branstetter's house by yards and high voltage power lines by just feet.

But Court Koenning's face took the full force of the impact, and he was rushed to via helicopter to a hospital in critical condition.

"The scariest conversation started: 'Your husband's been in a plane crash. He's had severe head trauma,'" Dawn Koenning said.

"His face impacted some part of the airplane," trauma surgeon Dr. Bobby Gill said. "It broke his face in probably six or seven different places."

After 18 days in the ICU, Court Koenning recovered faster and stronger than his doctors expected.

"I think it's explainable, although I don't know that science has all of the answers," Dr. Gill said.

It's been three months since the accident. His body is virtually healed.

"The man I married was fantastic and the man that came out of a plane crash and survived is even 100 times more fantastic," Dawn Koenning said.

His faith is even stronger. But persistent questions won't go away.

"Why did I get this second chance at life? Why when I said 'Climb baby climb' and 'God please save me,' why did it actually happen?" Court Koenning wonders. "If it's not my time, that means I have some other thing that I'm supposed to do."

"It doesn't have to be something big and spectacular. It might be you're just supposed to be here to be a great husband and a great dad. That is spectacular," Dawn Koenning said.

It's forced him and his family to take inventory, figure out what's important, and whatever this second act is supposed to be, he knows it won't include flying.

"I was given a second chance at life, and I can't take a chance on screwing that up," Court Koenning said.

Of all the things Court Koenning remembers about the crash, he has no recollection of hitting the ground. The gap in his memory, he says, is a gift.

Koenning has had 12 surgeries, mostly to reconstruct his face. Surgeries Number 13 and 14 are coming up soon.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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