For nearly 30 years, Kirk Douglas carried the death of two pilots on his shoulders. The 1993 fatal helicopter crash he was involved in left him wondering why he had survived. It was a question that haunted him to the end, when he passed away at age 103 on Wednesday. That crash left the star changed forever.
"I'll never forget the date," he wrote in his memoirs, "Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning," according to People. Douglas was flying in a helicopter with his pilot friend Noel Blanc and co-pilot Michael Carra when they collided with a Pitts aerobatic plane flown by Lee Manelski and David Tomlinson.
The impact caused Douglas' helicopter to plunge 20 to 40 feet to the ground. The other aircraft, which was running through a safety exercise at the time, exploded. There was no way Manelski and Tomlinson would have survived.
"In that horrible fraction of a second, the rotating blades of Noel's Bell Ranger helicopter sliced into the wing of David and Lee's Pitts, ripping it open and exposing its fuel to air," Douglas explained. "Carried by its fateful momentum, the little plane continued to rise forward into the blue sky. An instant later, the fuel caught fire. The Pitts exploded in a fireball."
Douglas could not remember much after the crash. He lost consciousness while lying in the tangled wreckage of the helicopter on the tarmac. About 200 meters from the runway, Manelski and Tomlinson were dead.
"I didn't know that from this day forward I would be asking: Why did they die? Why was I alive?" Douglas wrote. He learned their names while in his hospital bed.
"Somewhere out there, not too far from where I lay, the lives of the people who loved them were forever changed," Douglas continued, "and now mine had as well."
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