Area pastor Dane Skelton, friend of fellow pilot Lee Hilty, has started a GoFundMe page to assist Hilty with his medical bills following a helicopter crash Saturday night near Clover that seriously injured the Alton resident.
Hilty, 29, was at a friend’s house Saturday night and crashed upon takeoff, according to comments made on Hilty’s Facebook Page.
Hilty said he recalled his brush with death as resulting from a “slight mistake on takeoff.
“I was at a friend’s house for supper at his private airstrip,” Hilty said. “The last thing I remember is playing Rook. The friend said that I told him I was going to hover, turn 180 degrees and then depart down his runway to the south, which would have cleared all trees in the area. This was in the dark, of course. Instead, I hovered, turned 160 degrees and departed and hit a tree.”
Hilty recalls seeing a flash of a pine tree while 50-60 feet in the air.
“Somehow, the helicopter came down. Somehow the helicopter stayed level. I unbuckled my seat belt. And somehow, I walked away from the helicopter myself.”
Hilty said he felt blessed to be able to walk away from the crash that occurred on Mill Road in Clover at 10:06 p.m. Saturday.
The helicopter was declared a total loss, according to Clover Volunteer Fire Department Jamie Davis, who said Clover Volunteer Fire Department responded to the crash with 13 firefighters, and Triangle Volunteer Fire Department responded with seven firefighters.
“If any one of those ‘somehow’ things had not happened, I would not be here,” he noted, while thanking his friends for being willing to say a nice word, to offer a prayer, to pay a visit or offer a helping hand.
Skelton, pastor of Faith Community Church in South Boston, said Hilty actually crawled away from the helicopter after it crashed.
Hilty’s injuries include a fractured spine, broken ankle, second and third degree burns on his back and hand, swollen eye with minimal vision, fractured upper jaw and face, deep lacerations to the face and tongue, numbness on the whole right side of his face and chipped teeth.
Doctors at UNC-Chapel Hill Hospital have performed surgery on Hilty’s injured ankle, according to Skelton.
The GoFundMe page was set up to help Hilty with medical bills, since he doesn’t have any insurance.
“That’s all this money is going to be spent for, not anything else,” said Skelton.
The way the Robinson R22 helicopter is built helped save Hilty’s life, explained Skelton.
“The landing skids on the helicopter were designed to fail in a certain direction, to flail outwards on impact in order to absorb the ‘G’s,’ so the pilot doesn’t have to absorb them upon impact,” said Skelton.
“The seats are designed the same way, especially designed to collapse. They’re engineered to collapse under a certain ‘G’ load, so the frame of the seat absorbs the energy and not the pilot’s body.”
Hilty has been attending Faith Community Church the past year, and church leadership decided a GoFundMe page would be the best way to help raise money for Hilty’s medical treatment.
“He’s got friends all over the country. He’s lived in Wyoming, and he has relatives in Ohio,” said Skelton. “The GoFundMe thing works, and we decided to go that way.”
Providence is the practical outworking of the will of God in the lives of men that appears from our perspective as tragedy, chance or circumstance, continued Skelton.
As Winston Churchill wrote: “The longer one lives, the more one realizes that everything depends upon chance, and the harder it is to believe that this omnipotent factor in human affairs arises simply from the blind interplay of events. Chance, fortune, luck, destiny, fate, providence, seem to me only different ways of expressing the same thing, to wit, that a man’s own contribution to his life story is continually dominated by an external superior power.”
“I have been a pastor for 27 years and had many encounters with God’s providence. In each case the issue of life or death usually comes down to a unique set of circumstances, often micro-second timing,” Skelton pointed out.
“A few inches, a slight turn, one way or the other, and someone lives, or someone dies. From our point of view, these events are completely random, but not from God’s.
“Lee made a simple mistake, but the prudence that led our civilization to develop seat belts, energy absorbing cockpit seat frames and landing skids, volunteer fire departments, hospitals, emergency rooms, burn units and life flight helicopter services probably saved his life,” concluded Skelton.
“In a fallen world there is no such thing as life without risk, but with the right rules and procedures, risk can be mitigated.
“So, as the old saying goes: ‘Trust God and keep your powder dry.’ Or, trust God, buckle-up and put the phone down.”