Jeff Boatman has been flying helicopters for 40 years. For the past several years, his route has been taking him into the Grand Canyon, delivering supplies to the Havasupai Tribe. One morning last November, his transmission froze. He steered the helicopter away from power lines. And as he approached the ground the blades suddenly stopped turning and the helicopter crashed to the ground, trapping Boatman inside. He found his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1. Rosie Rodriquez answered the call.
" I’m in a helicopter crash."
Boatman says when his transmission failed it was like the steering wheel comes off in your hands. It just doesn’t happen.
"Sir, what kind of injuries do you have?"
" I think both my legs are broken, my pelvis, maybe my lower back."
Boatman was pinned inside the helicopter upside down. He was able to find his knife, cut himself from the seat belt and pull his legs out from under him. He told Rodriquez that he couldn’t feel anything from the chest down.
"Sir, I want to stay on the phone with you as long as you can stay on the phone with me, ok?"
Rodriquez did stay on the phone with Boatman for the 43 minutes it took emergency crews to find him.
"I’m still here, Jeff..."
"Tell my wife and kids I love em."
Rodriquez was worried he might have a head injury so she kept him talking about his love of flying, his kids and grand kids, football...
"Were you rooting for the Cardinals last week?"
… anything to keep him awake.
"Are you still with me?"
"Are you getting sleepy on me?"
Finally, with the help of another private helicopter the emergency crews were able to find Jeff.
"Well, Jeff, I just want you to know I’ll be praying for you that you’re ok. You take care and we’ll get a hold of your wife and kids..."
"Sir, don’t move. Don’t move. Don’t move. I’m here to help you out."
Rosie has been a dispatcher for 10 years but this call got to her.
"Usually people who crash their helicopters don’t live," she said. "For him to be able to be in his helicopter and be on his phone speaking with me and pretty coherent was pretty shocking. I kept thinking please don’t let this helicopter blow up."
Rodriquez has handled many tough calls but says the hardest part of her job is not knowing what happens to the callers after they hang up.
"We always hear the beginning but we never hear the end," she said.
Turns out Boatman did break his back. He lay unconscious in the hospital for two weeks after the crash. Today he uses a wheelchair. But with the help of a physical therapist he’s retraining his muscles and learning how to walk again. His doctors tell him it could take anywhere from six months to 10 years for his nerves to regenerate. The recovery has given him lots of time to think.
"You absolutely do soul searching there’s no doubt about that," he said. "You spend a lot of time crying and wondering what’s really the purpose in all of this. You got to evaluate, fix the things you need to fix and go on."
As for Rosie, she recently became the first civilian to win the life saving award from the Flagstaff police department. And she got to hear the end of Jeff’s story. Boatman came up from Glendale to thank her in person.
"It made an everlasting bond between her and I," he said, "because without her I would’ve obviously never been found out there."
Boatman is recovering faster than doctors expected and he hopes to be flying again very soon.