GREENSBORO, N.C. -- A man who survived a plane crash in Boone is sharing his story to inspire others.
“I wanted the nurses and doctors to know what he looked liked before the accident,” Judy Worsley said as she held up her iPhone. On the screen, was a photo of her husband John Worsley with sunglasses on, a huge smile and a head full of hair.
She doesn’t know when it was taken, “only sometime before the accident.”
As she showed the photo, John was sitting next to her on the family couch and staring at the phone.
His left eye began to water not for sentimental reasons but because of the damage that was done to it when the plane he was on crashed.
His body was severely burned and crushed the moment the plane smashed into a golf course in Boone.
At 1:00 p.m. on April 25, John and two of his friends flew from the Boone Airport in a Piper PA-32 aircraft, which, according to an NTSB accident report, belonged to John.
In their full report, it is stated that the plane was attempting a maneuver when its wings clipped a pair of pine trees. The plane then crashed into the ground.
To this day, John still has not regained parts of his memory from that day in April. Even as he sat down with his family in Greensboro, he scratched his scarred chin and did his best to recall what he could.
While John recalled that he was in the pilot's seat, and the plane, according to the NTSB, was registered to him, he has stated that he cannot remember if he was the one operating the aircraft at the time of the crash.
“The first thing that I can remember is the smell of smoke. And so I was in the pilot seat and the other two people in the plane were pilots too," John said.
Those two people were Benjamin Franklin Chappell, 69, and Steven Cox Berry, 43. Benjamin was killed on impact.
John explained that it was a race against the clock for him and Steven to escape the plane that had begun to go up in flames. The flames and heat were beginning to crawl up their backs and spread down their arms and legs.
“Steve was in the co-pilots seat and I said, ‘Steve, we’re on fire. We need to get out.’” Steve was stuck and repeatedly told John that he could not get out.
John explained that he had to reach out and push open the door, and the two rolled out of the burning metal frame.
Witnesses, who described how the plane quickly sped to the ground after clipping the trees, rushed over to the plane to help guide John and Steven away from the flames.
The smoke filled the two pilots' eyes, which made it nearly impossible to see.
John said he had to crawl on his hands and knees in the direction of where he thought their voices were coming from.
The following moments are a blur to the survivor. He said he remembers asking for someone to call his wife, who was six hours away at the beach. He also recalls having a conversation with the EMS crews while he was airlifted to the hospital.
Doctors told his wife that because of his age, 68, and the severity of his burns that he would not likely survive. While they did a CT scan that day, they also discovered that John had a tumor on his kidney that could likely impact his chances of making it.
“I remember telling the doctors that he wasn’t the typical 68-year-old. We really kind of expected that he’d make it,” Judy said.
Determined to help her husband have that fighting chance, Judy pushed for doctors to use an experimental skin regrowth treatment called “RECELL.”
John said that “they take a post-it stamp size piece of your skin and they expand it to 70 to 90 times the size of the medium.” That skin is then liquified to the point to where it can be sprayed onto the burn areas in an attempt to replace and recover the damaged area.
he spent the next six months in the hospital. During this time, he learned that his friend and co-pilot Steven had passed away from his injuries sustained in the crash.
He also had to have his left ankle and leg pinned in place to repair, both of his hands were in casts and his ability to move was limited.
With the help of the physicians, his wife and the fuel in his spirit, John walked out of the hospital in October 2016.
Three years later, he is still not physically able to do what he once could.
He lost his left ear and has to wear hearing aids, he can’t stand in one place for too long with hurting, his hands and fingers aren’t able to close all the way and his skin is no longer able to sweat, meaning he cannot tell when he’s getting too hot.
He still has regular therapy and doctor’s visits to replace his skin as needed.
However, he decided he would not let those limitations stop him.
“I’ve decided that you have one of two choices. You can do whatever it is you can do, or you can sit down and wait to die," John said.
He has joined a burn survivor’s group in Winston-Salem and attends the monthly meetings as often as he can.
John explained that he wants to share his story to show others their life isn’t over just because the unexpected happened.
He recalled a moment from a recent meeting he attended where he sat and listened to victims speak.
“They were really angry, they were depressed, and I thought maybe I might be able to help some people," John said.
He also said he wants to get behind the controls of a plane again and takes to the skies once more.