Recovery painful, uncertain for man struck by falling plane

Bob Griffin will never water on the wrong day again.

This is the running gag for the Griffin family these days, but less than a week ago their world was turned upside-down when Griffin was seriously injured by a falling plane as he turned off the sprinklers in his back yard.

By Thursday evening, his wife Patricia had relaxed enough to talk about the accident that nearly killed her husband.

"It was horrifying. I know this is not a lucky thing, but we were very lucky that day. This is proof there is a God," she said from Washoe Medical Center.

Patricia has been by her husband's side since the accident Saturday night, not once returning to her home in the 4400 block of Apollo Drive. Griffin's legs are being held together by pins, and a chunk of skull at the forehead was removed. Doctors told Patricia the portion of skull they removed "was like corn flakes."

As much significance as she puts on the "stupid snapdragons" Bob was watering that day, she also places on a slice of apple pie her granddaughter had gone inside to eat just moments before the plane crash.

"I believe that apple pie saved that child's life," she said, explaining how 10-year-old Shayla and her grandfather were playing kickball in the back yard when the two headed inside for dessert.

Griffin, 63, was right behind Shayla, Patricia recalls, but at the last moment realized he had left the sprinkler running on the snapdragons. Under Carson City's watering restrictions, it was a day he shouldn't have been watering.

At 7:30 p.m. that night Carson City physician Kevin Jensen and his wife, Lois, were returning to the airport after a flight around Eagle Valley. Jensen said the couple wanted to take advantage of the first clear day in over a week since smoke from California fires had shrouded the view of the Sierra Nevada.

Somewhere over Griffin's East Carson neighborhood, the engine on the 35-year-old Piper Cherokee gave out. Panicked, Jensen tried unsuccessfully to restart the stalled motor. Clipping trees and power lines, the craft crashed to earth, landing upside-down on top of the running Griffin in his backyard.

"He doesn't remember too much about the accident," Patricia said. "He just remembers seeing a shadow come over him and running."

Shayla was at the coffee table by that time. She had taken two bites of the pie made from her grandparent's apple tree when she heard a whirring sound.

"Then I heard a pop and it was like a tornado, all dusty and everything. I didn't see the plane. I just started screaming before I even knew what happened," she said.

Patricia ran over to her granddaughter when she heard her screams.

"Shayla Jean was hysterical, not making any sense at all. As soon as I saw the plane I started screaming for my husband."

But Bob didn't respond, Patricia said, and suddenly the door to the aircraft flew open and she saw Jensen.

"I tried to pull him out, but he was hurt and he was stuck, and then I heard a moan. I wasn't sure who it was, but it sounded like my husband."

Patricia was covered in gasoline, she knew from the smell, and what she believed to be power lines had been clipped and crisscrossed the yard. She ran to her phone to call for help, but the line was dead.

From all directions neighbors came, filling her yard and pulling the pilot and his wife from the cockpit.

"All of those people were there knowing full well that plane could blow up. From all sides they came to help. We can't thank them enough."

Griffin's daughter Tawny Cooper and her husband, Robert live, only a block from her father's house and raced over when they heard the crash.

"I heard the sputtering of the plane and then I heard the crack of a tree and my daughter screaming and I knew, I knew this was bad," Cooper said from her parent's home Thursday.

She said she ran to her father's side and was stunned by what she saw.

Video footage given to them by a newsman on scene shows Griffin's face covered in blood from a deep gash on his forehead. His right leg is horribly bent to the left at mid-shin, then back to the right above the ankle.

Cooper and her husband crawled under the tail of the plane to lie beside her father.

"He kept wanting to sit up. Bob was holding the back of Dad's head. Finally, I had to tell him, 'Dad, your legs are broken, you can't sit up.'"

Patricia was telling her children to leave, because she was worried about an explosion.

"Finally, my mom made us get up. She thought the plane was going to explode and she wanted to be with her husband," Cooper said.

"The worst thing for me was when I got under the plane and I saw my husband's legs. They were in pieces, and in my heart I just thought he will never walk again," Patricia said. "He didn't know what had happened to him. He kept wanting me to straighten his legs."

She pauses to choke back tears, then with a cracking voice continues. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."

In what seemed like forever, but in reality was only minutes, paramedics arrived.

"The paramedics made me leave and I just went to pieces after that."

Griffin was taken to Washoe Medical Center by CareFlight helicopter where he underwent emergency surgery for six hours to piece his legs back together and to remove the shattered piece of skull. He is expected to undergo a second surgery to receive a metal plate.

Doctors have told the family Griffin will need at least six months to a year to recover.

"It's something new everyday. We don't know if he will ever be able to walk again," Cooper said.

But their hopes are high, and the family feels for the Jensens in their recovery.

"We have absolutely no animosity toward Dr. Jensen," she said. "This poor man did not want this to happen. He certainly never meant to hurt Bob. We don't hate anyone. The fact that everyone is OK I feel is a miracle."

The Jensen family believe they have adequate insurance to cover Griffin's medical bills.

A fund has been set to help offset lost wages for the Griffin family.

Donations can be made in an account to benefit plane crash victim Bob Griffin at any Wells Fargo location.


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