Family survives plane crash with help of strangers

January 23, 2012

Andy Atkins, wife Jenny and their 4-year-old son Logan were taking an air tour along the coast of Roatan, a small island near Honduras, on January 11 when disaster struck: The engine cut out and the seaplane crashed into the water. But incredible good fortune smiled down upon the Dallas, Texas family — passengers in a nearby boat jumped into the water to retrieve them and two doctors aboard a nearby second boat quickly treated the injured trio.

"My wife and son, I'm not sure what the outcome would have been without those doctors," Atkins, an attorney, told Savannah Guthrie live from Dallas on TODAY Monday. "I just shudder to think."

Atkins said he was comfortable taking his family into the air for some sight-seeing that day — just two months prior, he had taken the same aerial trip with some pals from college. And while the plane hovered just a few hundred feet above the water, Atkins said there wasn't even time to realize they were in imminent danger.

"I looked out the window, out the side of the plane and I could see the ocean and the reef," he told Guthrie. "I guess part of me thought it looked a little close. Really, the next thing I know, I was upside down in the water...still strapped in and wondering what happened.

"It took me just a second of talking to my brain to realize, wow, we really crashed and you're not dead, but you've got to get out of here before you drown."

Among many to thank, Atkins first credits the plane's quick-thinking pilot who helped free him from his seat restraints. "He got me to the surface...I asked him what happened, and he said we lost an engine," Atkins said. "I said, 'Where's my wife and kid?' and he said, 'I don't know.'"

Atkins dived down to locate his family but had to resurface for air before making a second attempt. On that second attempt the pilot was already freeing wife and son.

"He had gotten my wife and had helped her get out, and she pushed the baby with her last bit of consciousness to me," he said "As I brought him to the surface there she was at the surface almost at exactly the same time."

A nearby parasailing boat with a retired pilot among its passengers witnessed the crash and made a bee-line to the wreck. As video shot onboard dramatically captured, the passengers began diving in to rescue the family.

One rescuer told NBC: "We all dove in and swam just as quickly as we could...the timing was impeccable; we were just at the right place at the right time."

On board a second boat were two physicians — one a U.S. Navy doctor — who sprang to action to help Atkins' wife and son. "They got both of them on the back of that boat to give them oxygen and treated them with all their skill," Atkins told NBC News in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Atkins told Guthrie the doctors "treated them the whole way" back to shore. And after a four-day hospital stay, the family is now back home in Texas.

"We're out of the hospital and we're getting better every day," he said.

Atkins told NBC News in Dallas-Fort Worth his family's brush with death came with a silver lining.

"It reaffirms your faith in people and humanity that so many people stepped in to help that didn't have to," he said. "We appreciate that we feel like we've been given a second chance, and we want to try to help other people when we see other people that need help."

Atkins said the family now feels a strong bond with the people of the area and will certainly return to Roatan in the future, although, he added, "We're not going to be going up in any planes like that."

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