It is not my story, but one of Air Force Captain Brian Udell, or "Noodle" as his friends call him.
It is a story of "Desire," "Determination" and "Discipline"-one of facing and overcoming extreme obstacles.
began flying at age 9 and took his
first cross-country flight at 10.
He was one of only 60 candidates across the United States selected to attend the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program.
graduated No. 1 in his
class and was awarded the Air Training Command-Commanders Cup Trophy.
was one of the first lieutenants selected to fly the F-15E Strike Eagle.
has accumulated over 9,000 hours in a variety of both civilian and military aircraft, including missions in Southeast Asia and Iraq.
So, one might conclude that Brian Udell
is a well-trained, excellent pilot.
On February 21, 1995, Captain Udell was conducting a routine training flight about 65 miles off the North Carolina coast over the Atlantic Ocean.
Partway through the flight, while making a banking maneuver, something happened to the computer system that caused the plane to lose altitude rapidly and accelerate at the same time.
The plane descended from approximately 30,000 feet to 1,500 feet in a matter of a few seconds.
It also accelerated from 400 mph to 800 mph.
After trying to regain control of the aircraft, the only option left was to eject, so that is what Brian
co-pilot did-the co-pilot at approximately 10,000 feet and Brian at around 1,500 feet.
partner did not survive.
was able to inflate a small rubber life raft during the descent into the 60° water of the ocean using his
one good arm with three operating fingers.
hit the water, submerged 10 feet under and the raft pulled him to the surface.
life vest was also torn to shreds during the ejection.
Five-foot seas and 15 mph winds faced him once reaching the surface.
Bobbing in the ocean, he
now had to figure out how to hoist his
badly-damaged body onto the raft or face possibly being a meal for a shark.
Following several attempts, he
finally turned to his
faith in God and prayer.
was down to only enough strength for one more attempt, miraculously he
made it onto the raft.
Most of the survival equipment either did not survive the ejection and was lost or was nonfunctional.
After nearly four grueling hours in the cold Atlantic, he
heard the sound of a Coast Guard C-130 plane and a helicopter.
could not operate the flares since it required two hands and he
only had the use of one.
A small radio was his
last hope, but it did not appear to be working at first.
Again, with one final attempt and through sheer faith and determination, the message was acknowledged.
then had to guide the rescuers in near his
position, but not too close with the helicopter or it would toss him from the raft and he
would ultimately drown.
Once rescued it was off to a hospital.
No drugs or pain killers could be administered for hours after his
arrival since they needed to know where he
was experiencing pain as the medical team attempted to reset legs, arms and generally reconstruct his
Several weeks and several operations later, doctors told Brian
would never be able to walk normally and that he
would never be a pilot again.
But this is just one more indication of how strong his
will was to not only survive but also to return to a normal functioning life.
Within two months after the titanium rods were removed from his
was walking again.
And, after another four months, he
climbed into an F-15E and took off down the runway.
Today, Brian Udell is a pilot for Southwest Airlines.
is a shining example of someone who kept his
cool during extreme circumstances.
had the Desire to survive, the Determination to return to a normal life and the Discipline, coupled with his
faith, to use his
training and skills in a way that allowed him to meet his
ultimate goal of survival, by staying focused and breaking the big goal down into manageable pieces and applying his
wisdom and knowledge to the task at hand.
Part of his
unrelenting willpower and courage also had a lot to do with his
wife being four months pregnant with their first child!
What can we all learn from Brian
It is not the situation we find ourselves in that determines the outcome, but how we handle that situation.
If faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge, we are best served by staying focused on what is most important at that time... and never giving up.
Finally, although I'm sure there are other lessons to garner, the one that was most poignant for me.
If I am having a so-called "bad day," I will think of Brian Udell
, the only person to survive the highest speed ejection from a U.S. fighter aircraft to put it all in better perspective...
And That's The Way I See It!
I find Captain Brian Udell to be a courageous person.
I am sure there wasn't much time to think.
I believe the changing moment was when he
turned to God and prayer.