Pilot remembers 1996 fighter jet crash in Amarillo - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Pilot remembers 1996 fighter jet crash in Amarillo

AMARILLO - Thursday's plane crash into a South Amarillo mobile home isn't the first time a plane has failed an attempted take off at Tradewind Airport.

When Sandy and Jim Yarborough turned on their TV this morning to hear a man describing the plane that crashed into his home as "a first," they were brought back in time to September 6, 1996.

"I thought nuh uh, there's been two since then," Sandy said. "I turned to him and he said 'yeah I remember that MIG."

Jim was a city street department employee at the time of the crash and helped direct traffic on that September day, when a Russian MIG 17 fighter jet crashed in a field off 46th Street and Tradewind.

"Me being a little fly boy and everything, I thought it was interesting to see a Russian MIG," Jim said. "And that's the first and ever one I ever seen."

Jim and Sandy didn't remember who the pilot was or whether he survived, but NewsChannel 10 found tracked the down the NTSB report and the crash, and found the pilot, Walter "Nick" Nelson, sitting in his "man cave" in his Amarillo home.

Nelson was taking off from Tradewind airport to fly in a Dallas airshow 17 years ago, when the plane lost power and blew up. Luckily his firefighter son was on the scene with an ambulance.

"I was coming to but I was still on fire, and he grabbed me and undid my safety belt, and we fell out of the airplane together," Nelson said.

Nelson's son, Scott, was the assistant fire chief for Randall County at the time. Scott was at the airport with his equipment, and ambulance, and some EMT's when to watch his father take off. A Lifestar helicopter was called as soon as Scott could see something wrong with the plane, and was on scene as soon as Nelson was pulled from the burning aircraft.

Nelson suffered burns all over his body, but says he would likely be dead if weren't for his son.

"I was protected here because of my flight suit, fire retardant type, but everything up from here is all scar tissue," Nelson said, referring to his upper body. "They had feeding tubes in me and things into my lungs, both lungs collapsed. I wasn't supposed to make it. Anyway, I did."

But the ordeal didn't stunt Nelson's need for adventure.

One year and a day after the crash, Nelson was up in the air again for a Dallas air show and, at the age of 72, he still rides his Harley motorcycle, flies his airplanes, and drives his boats.

"My wife has decided that I should give up jets. So I gave up jets, but I still have some props and stuff. I still fly," Nelson said.

Right now Nelson is working on restoring a World War I Sopwith Camel.

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