EMPORIA (KSNT) – Emporia State University adjunct instructor and former Lawrence High School Band Director Jay Smith is lucky to be alive after the plane he was flying lost power and crashed into the woods, leaving him unable to walk and barely conscious.
Smith, 69, planned for a quick jaunt around the airport near their Arkansas home as his wife, Gina, prepared for Valentine’s Day dinner. Two hours later, trapped in his airplane and unable to get out, he woke up to his wife calling him.
“It was supposed to be a roughly five-minute flight, two hours later my phone rang,” Smith told KSNT News. He answered the call and told his wife, “I’ve crashed into some trees.” Smith said he felt no pain and was unaware he was hurt in any way.
“I had no conception I was hurt as bad as I was,” Smith said. Smith thought he was going to crawl out of the plane, instead, he said he passed out again, “Next thing I remember hearing was ‘holy s***, there’s gasoline everywhere.'”
After alerting emergency services, Gina, Smith’s wife, followed the fire trucks to the scene of the crash. “She watched from a distance not knowing if I was dead or alive,” Smith said. “The horror she went through, her strength was astounding.”
Trapped inside the fuselage, 911 called Smith to get his location. With a fix on his location, emergency crews started moving towards the downed plane.
Smith remembers very little about the crash except for seeing treetops. He compared the tops of the tree to fingertips and said he recalls thinking, ‘here come the fingers.’
While he can’t walk, Smith said he wanted to finish his spring assignments. He was back to grading papers just days after smashing nose-first into the ground. “It was such a wonderful distraction to have those papers, it gave my mind a place to go,” Smith said.
As Emporia State University Department Chair, Dr. Daniel Stiffler had concerns Smith wouldn’t be able to finish the spring coursework. “He would see this through come heck or high water,” Stiffler said. “He loves his students, that’s just the kind of person he is.”
While there is a long road ahead of him, two surgeries have restored his vision to 98% of what it was and he can now breathe through his nose. Extensive injuries to his lower legs still linger and will require several more surgeries to restore his ability to walk. Smith’s son, Dan Smith, who received his undergraduate degree from Emporia State University and his Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) from the University of Kansas believes his dad will walk again.
Until then, Smith expressed gratitude for his wife who is working towards an online degree herself, and his primary caregiver. “This is really tough on her, but she is an absolute trooper,” Smith said. “She’s been an absolute superstar.”
Smith said he will start teaching his online summer courses come May and is looking forward to that.
“It wasn’t my day to die,” Smith said. “It just wasn’t my day to die”