Massad Ayoob, Jonathan Strayer, William Harward: Helicopter crash survivors 'grateful to be alive'

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Massad Ayoob said he didn't have time to think of dying, as the small helicopter he was in plunged.

Seconds before, the internationally known firearms expert and his hunting companion Jonathan Strayer were 100 feet up in the air, intent on following a wild hog they spotted below.

The "oinker had run under the canopy of some tall pines," Ayoob recalled Monday, when, suddenly, the helicopter engine lost power near the Okeechobee County landfill about 8 a.m.

The trip started as an adventure and as a test of marksmanship for the two Live Oak pals: a .44-caliber Magnum revolver in a moving aircraft versus a quick-moving hog, an animal ranchers consider to be a nuisance because they dig up the ground, destroying farmland.

They arranged the hunting trip, taking off from private land, and hunting on private property at the Okeechobee-St. Lucie county line. There are no restrictions on hog-hunting on private land, said Carli Segelson, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The crash happened north of the landfill and just inside St. Lucie County and west of Adams Ranch near a private landing strip.

The group was only in the air a few minutes when the helicopter sputtered.

The rotor blades hit tall pine trees, fracturing the blades and sending them and wood splinters flying.

Instinctively, the 64-year-old Ayood bent down, fearing the whirling debris would shoot at him through the small clear, plexiglass cockpit in which he, Strayer, 46, and pilot William Harward, 55, of Miami, were huddled.

With the blades gone, the aircraft could only drop into the wooded terrain below.

His emotions churned, Ayood said, during 10 seconds of terror when they realized they were going down.

The aircraft ended upside down as it crashed, bashing the cockpit dashboard against the pilot's helmet-covered head.

"We ended up nose down and kinda upside down" in the cockpit, Ayoob said. It was only then — as they unbuckled their four-point harnesses — that there was time to be scared "and grateful to be alive," he said.

They had "cuts, bruises, pulled muscles and stiffness, but since none of the stiffness involves rigor mortis, ain't none of us complaining," he said. "All of our body parts were there."

Somehow through it all, Strayer held onto his Magnum in his right hand.

"You don't want something like that floating around" during a fall, Strayer said Monday.

"We had some angels riding with us."

With the shock behind them and knowing that all of them are OK, Ayoob joked on Monday: "Who knew (the hogs) had anti aircraft capabilities."

Both Ayoob and Strayer credit the pilot with getting them to the ground alive.

"I give the pilot all the credit in the world," Ayoob said. Harward couldn't be reached Monday for comment.

As they staggered from the wreckage, they found one of their cell phones and phoned the aircraft owner, Kenneth Fabel, for help. Then they walked several hundred yards to meet Fabel who took them to a hospital in Okeechobee County for treatment, according to a St. Lucie County Sheriff's report. Fabel declined to comment on Monday.

"We were sopping up blood on the way to the hospital," Ayoob said.

After just a few hours, they were released.

Later Saturday, Ayoob said, Strayer joked with him about buying a lottery ticket that didn't win in the Saturday night drawing.

"We used up enough luck for one day," Strayer said.

Officials with the federal Aviation Administration on Monday said they are investigating why the helicopter engine slowed and the aircraft fell. They expect it to take about two weeks to know the probable cause of the crash, said spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.

Ayoob is a widely known firearms and self-defense instructor who founded and headed up the Lethal Force Institute in New Hampshire from 1981 to 2009. Since then, he has been an instructor with the Massad Ayoob Group and has written books and articles on self-defense.

Through the years he has been through some harrowing experiences, including some close calls in automobile accidents.

This was his first near-death experience in a helicopter.

"I got my daily requirement of adrenaline" during the crash, he said.

He has blogged about the crash on his website Backwoods Hone Magazine. Read it here

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