Fitzgerald plane crash remembered - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Fitzgerald plane crash remembered

Shealy (left) and Conger (right) holding photos of Townsend's one year anniversary visit Shealy (left) and Conger (right) holding photos of Townsend's one year anniversary visit
Mark Shealy, Ben Hill Co. EMS Director Mark Shealy, Ben Hill Co. EMS Director
Shealy (left) with Townsend (right) at one year anniversary of crash Shealy (left) with Townsend (right) at one year anniversary of crash
Sheldon Conger, Ben Hill Co. Volunteer Fire Depart. Chief Sheldon Conger, Ben Hill Co. Volunteer Fire Depart. Chief
FITZGERALD, GA (WALB) -

17 years ago the field at the end of Fitzgerald Municipal Airport's runway was a disaster site. On December 1,1996 pilot Joe Townsend and his family were flying home to Florida from Fitzgerald.

They took off in heavy rain and wind, then a problem with the fuel filter caused the engines to fail, causing the plane dropped out of the sky.

"The damage of the plane was so severe. And when we got to the plane, we found four patients," said Mark Shealy, Ben Hill County EMS Director.

Emergency responders didn't think there were any survivors, but found Townsend and his 18-month-old daughter barely alive in the wreckage. Townsend's wife and 4 ½ year-old daughter died at the scene. Shortly after, the baby died from her injuries.

The pilot was permanently injured from the accident, and devastated by the loss of his family. After years of adversity he recovered and wrote the book "Soul Survivor," which was re-enacted on the 700 club on March 26th.

"So, it makes you know that there is a God out there, and he works with you and he strengthens you and gives you through anything, 'cause that's gotta be the hardest thing to come through. Losing your family all at one time," said Sheldon Conger, Ben Hill Co. Volunteer Fire Chief.

Townsend keeps in touch with the people who saved him. Shealy still has photos of Townsend's visit on the first anniversary of the crash. And rescuers couldn't be happier that he turned his life around.

"As critical as he was...we had no idea that it would turn out this good for him," Mark Shealy, Ben Hill Co. EMS Director.

Townsend remarried and found new faith in God, and he still has a love of being up in the air. Filming for the project began in February with actors, a three person crew and Phoebe employees.

Townsend's book "Soul Survivor" was released in 2011.

Copyright 2013 WALB.  All rights reserved.  

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