Jim Tucker

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

Tragically, Oklahoma City showed us the damage a Ryder truck full of fertilizer in evil hands can do to a building. On April 7, 1994, we came dangerously close to finding out what a DC-10 full of jet fuel and a man with nothing to lose could do to a corporate campus in Memphis. That's the day a disgruntled employee attacked the crew of FedEx Flight 705 with the intention of crashing the airplane into company headquarters. Jim Tucker had taught air combat maneuvering in the Navy and after being severely wounded in the attack, he fought back with the only weapon he had: the DC-10. The "Heroes of Flight 705" subdued their attacker, saved the airplane, and probably saved FedEx. In this month's Profile, AVweb's Joe Godfrey talks with Jim about flying, family and faith, before and after Flight 705.

Jim TuckerJames Morgan Tucker, Jr. was born September 7, 1951, in Miami, Fla. He grew up two blocks from MIA with A&Ps for neighbors, and watched Eastern Airlines transition from props to jets. He went to college in Alabama looking at a law career, but a carrier aviation poster in the recruiter's office caught his eye, and he became a naval aviator. In the Navy he did two carrier tours in A7s, then went stateside to be a weapons instructor and a combat maneuvering instructor for the A-4. After the Navy he flew 737s for People Express until FedEx called in October of '84. At FedEx he started in the back seat of the 727, moved to right seat, transitioned to right seat in the DC-10, began captain upgrade in the 727 and was offered a position as check airman/flex instructor in the left seat of the DC-10.

On April 7, 1994, Jim spent the morning renewing his FAA medical certificate, and planned to spend the afternoon flying his Luscombe. Meanwhile, a FedEx engineer named Auburn Calloway, who knew that he was about to be fired, had bought weapons to use on his two crewmates on Flight 705. He knew his flying days were over so his plan was to disable the crew and crash the airplane, which would give a nice insurance policy to his survivors. The originally scheduled crew — including Calloway — had logged a minute over the eight-hour rule on their inbound flight, so FedEx schedulers assembled a replacement crew for the out-and-back to San Jose later that afternoon. They called Captain David Sanders, Flight Engineer Andy Peterson, and asked Captain Jim Tucker to fly right-seat. When they boarded the airplane that afternoon, Calloway was already onboard in the jumpseat. About 20 minutes into the flight, Calloway attacked the crew, first with a 20-ounce framing hammer, then with a spear gun.

Jim used air combat maneuvering techniques he had taught in the Navy to knock Calloway off balance. David and Andy subdued the attacker, then David and Jim swapped places. Jim and Andy stayed in the forward cargo area to contain and fight Calloway, while David returned the aircraft to Memphis. Thanks to some miraculous flying, everyone survived, including FedEx headquarters and who knows how many employees who would have perished in the crash. Calloway is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole.

That was the last medical Jim got. And though he has the right to be bitter about the attack that ended his professional flying career, he's a positive man with a deep faith in God. He moved his family from Memphis to rural Alabama, is a dedicated husband, father of three and Sunday School teacher. Jim volunteers his time as chairman of the Headland Airport Authority (0J6), and is a board member of the Alabama Council of Aviation. He keeps his Luscombe — which he flies with a friend as PIC — and an Airbike ultralight near his home.

In 1997 Dave Hirshman wrote an excellent book about Jim, Dave, Andy and their attacker. Used copies of Hijacked — The True Story of the Heroes of Flight 705, are available through Amazon.com

Jim books personal appearances through the Aviation Speakers Bureau.


Tell us about your dad, James Morgan Tucker Sr.

He's an amazing man — very soft spoken. I only heard him raise his voice once or twice in my whole life, but you instinctively knew that if he told you to do something you had better do it. He grew up in rural Florida, in a broken family, with an abusive stepfather. Eventually he was sent to a little fishing village called Stuart, Fla., to be raised by his grandmother, who was a bridge tender on the St. Lucie river. Bridge tending meant you had to open the bridge any time of the day or night for river travel, and it meant cleaning and repair of the bridge. So during the depression, he was out there cleaning lanterns on the bridge at a very tender age. He got to know the river, made his own kayaks and sailboats, got into scouting, and has good memories about growing up in that environment.

He dropped out of high school to join the Navy and fight the war, and got into the enlisted pilot program, but he was subsequently washed out because he didn't have a high school diploma. It was a classic case of military intelligence — after they washed him out of pilot training they sent him to the University of Chicago because his test scores were so high. He spent about four years in, on and around PT boats in the Guadalcanal area and the Solomon chain with the USS Jamestown — AGP3. He doesn't talk too much about what he saw out there.

The great majority of the men that returned from the horrors of that war did so with a sense of thankfulness and humility, immediately began the transition from warrior to responsible citizen, raised families and accomplished great things. My father was no exception. In October of 1946 he married the former Evelyn Butcher, and I and my younger sister are the result of that union. We had a stable, loving family environment — my sister and I were baptized, grew up in, and were confirmed at Grace Lutheran Church. Dad worked for Southern Bell for 37 years. He and my mother currently reside in Pensacola, Fla.

Did he ever learn to fly?

He wanted to, but the opportunity never really presented itself. He has flown with me, and one time I put him in a six-axis simulator at Kingsville, Texas, and he did quite well. When he flies with me he's got good air sense, he navigates very well, he has good situational awareness, and he's a pleasure to fly with — but he doesn't have his license.

How did you get interested in flying?

I grew up in Miami Springs, Fla., two blocks from Miami International Airport. I could see the Eastern Airlines hangars from NW 36th Street, and as I grew up I watched Eastern go from the prop age to the jet age. Our next-door neighbor was a mechanic for Eastern, my godparents were across the street, and he — Pa Gable — was a mechanic for Pan Am. I remember going to see them in the shops when I was very young. Old hands at Eastern told me that at one time it wouldn't be uncommon to see Eddie Rickenbacker making his way through the shops, just saying hello. I attended Glenn H. Curtiss elementary school. So, from the first time I can remember I've always wanted to fly. It was just a matter of how to make it happen.

How did you make it happen?

  aboard the USS Kennedy
  Ops aboard the USS Kennedy.
I left Miami Springs in 1969 to attend the University of Montevallo in Alabama. Coming from the Miami area, I really enjoyed a smaller school out in the country. I thought about pursuing law, and I found out that the Navy had a JAG Corps program would pay for law school — eventually leading to a commission. One day I was in the office of a Navy recruiter and I saw a big poster of a carrier with airplanes taking off and landing, which I figured was only for Academy graduates, and then I found out that the Navy also had an Aviation Officer Candidate School. In the time between college and the Navy, I had a job working nights so I could fly during the day, and I picked up a private license right before I went in the Navy. It was very competitive because the situation in Vietnam was starting to slow down and they had a lot of pilots in the pipeline.

My class started at NAS Pensacola with about 42 people, and in about a week we were down to about 22. Eight of us got our wings, and three of us got to fly jets, and I was one of them. I got my first choice — flying A-7Es — from the Kennedy and the Eisenhower. We were gone all the time. Our first cruise was nine months. My wife and I had been married only a short time and she likes to travel as much as I do, so she went overseas and I got to see her when we were in port, which was less than I wanted, but better than if she were home in Jacksonville.

After I left VA-72 — Attack Squadron 72 — I went to VT-4 at NAS Pensacola and I was a weapons instructor and air combat maneuvering instructor in the A- 4, and an LSO — Landing Signal Officer. They wanted me to accept orders to go back to Jax and transition into the F/A-18. I had been in Pensacola only 18 months and we had our first child — a son, Morgan. If I accepted the orders and progressed normally in rank, I'd be looking at sea duty for the next nine years! I couldn't see putting the family through that kind of separation—so I ended my active duty participation in December of 1981. A couple of years later I resigned my commission and they "piped me over the side" as a Lieutenant Commander.

How did you get to People Express?

  OH-58
  THIS is a job for FedEx!

In 1981 we were in a recession, and everybody — Pan Am, Delta, United, Northwest, American — had pilots on the street. It was a tough time to be looking for an airline job, but somebody told me about this little upstart carrier in Newark. Looking back, we had a good group of pilots — good sticks — but not a lot of airline experience in the group. It was kind of a Part 121 training school.

In my first year I upgraded from first officer to captain in the B-737, and later I became a check airman and an IOE instructor on 737s. You had to have a staff position as well as your pilot job, and I became a dispatcher, too. It was good training except we were all starving. I had tried to get on with Federal Express right out of the Navy, and I knew some of the guys that got on. In late '83 and early '84 they started hiring again, and they hired me in October of '84. I gave up the left seat and started all over again, happily. When FedEx called, I would have ridden a bicycle to get to Memphis.

I went the normal route from the back seat of the 727, to the right seat of the 727, then to the right seat of the DC-10, and was ready to come back to the left seat of the 727. I was already previously type-rated in the 727. The upgrade to captain had taken a little longer because FedEx had acquired Flying Tigers, and there were seniority issues to be ironed out. During the upgrade class to captain B-727, the company asked — and I accepted — a position as a DC-10 flex instructor. Essentially it meant upgrade to captain on the DC-10 and instruct and check, while being paid at the pay rate of a 727 captain. Once my seniority would actually let me hold the left seat of the DC-10, I would be paid at that rate.

I checked out on the DC-10 in January 1991. I enjoyed the job — we would flex to the line during peak, or flex back to the simulator and teach and administer checkrides — and FAA guidelines for seat-specific training required us to maintain proficiency in either seat. I happened to be in the right seat on our day of infamy. David Sanders — whose company seniority exceeded mine by 10 years — signed for the jet and Andy Peterson was second officer.

How did you wind up on that flight? Weren't you planning to fly your Luscombe that day?

We had just come back from vacation and the way the schedule worked I still had a few days off. It was a beautiful day and I had every intention of going out and flying. I got my medical that morning, and I didn't know anything about this trip that had come up, or the crew change that caused it, or the agenda of Auburn Calloway. Crew skeds needed a body — and I was qualified. It was supposed to be an easy trip — back by 11 p.m. — so when they called and explained the situation, I accepted the trip.

Was there nothing suspicious about him?

Nothing whatsoever. I had heard his name before, and heard folks speak about him. One captain I knew had flown with Auburn and had a real problem with him — he ( the captain) turned out to be right on the money — but you filter these stories in the context that people oftentimes aren't at their best flying long trips on the back side of the clock. I had forgotten about that particular story, but it became patently clear in a few minutes after takeoff that Auburn wasn't a nice guy!

When we met him we were under duress trying to get to the airplane and push back on time, and I had screwed up and left the paperwork in the office, because that's normally not a captain's job, but I was flying this trip as first officer. We were late, too, because the bus driver had made a wrong turn, so instead of being first to be dropped off, we were last. I met Auburn as I came up the stairs to the airplane, but we saw jumpseaters every day and he was just another jumpseater in uniform.

Tell us what you can about the attack, and what lessons are there in what you did about how to handle an emergency?

Every situation is different, and you just have to deal with what you've got at the time. Then again, it's the lesson we're always taught: Fly the airplane.

We had passed 10,000 feet so it wasn't a sterile cockpit. We were shooting the breeze about the terrain around Crowley's ridge. Flights are typically busy and frenzied as you take the runway — looking and checking and double-checking — then as you climb to altitude the pace gradually slows as you clean up the airplane and run the checklists.. Then at altitude you usually go to autopilot and it often stays that way until you start the descent.

We were passing through 18,000 feet and resetting altimeters, and everybody's back was turned to Auburn. I don't know if he was waiting for that moment, but it was shortly after that when I heard a horrible sound. I had never heard a sound like that on an airplane in my life. It was a ghastly sound, with a metallic quality. As horrible as it sounds, that metallic ring was the hammer peening off the skull of Andy Peterson. I heard it two or three times, and a lot of thrashing around back there. As I turned to my left, I was hit in the left parietal area — the area over the left ear— and the hammer penetrated the skull and drove bone fragments into the brain. I lost useful consciousness for about 45 seconds. I was hand-flying the airplane — I hand-fly a lot, using control-wheel-steering mode. You're flying the airplane through the autopilot with inputs from the stick — it's like power steering. The A-7 had the same thing and we called it control augmentation. A DC-10 is astonishingly responsive.

After I was hit I could see what was going on around me, and I could see Auburn go over and attack David, who was doing a remarkable job of fending off the attack, even with his shoulder harness on. I always release mine after takeoff, but David still had his on, and I remember looking at that situation and thinking it would be a lot better if he didn't have it on. I was watching the blood fly, and there was a tremendous amount of it. About that time Auburn left abruptly, and we know now that he was going to get his spear gun, either to administer the coup de grace, or to try and get us to do his bidding with the airplane.

Even in that mental state, I reasoned that Auburn's primary purpose in attacking was to take control of the aircraft. We were insignificant, disposable assets to be thoughtlessly dispatched. He had a definite mission, and we were in the way. He was cold, calculating and focused. Had he simply wanted to doom us, there are three engine fire levers above Andy's head, and he could have flamed out the engines, disabled the ignition, and there was no way we could have restarted the engines fighting him off. So I knew that he wanted the airplane. I could see David trying to unstrap and fight, and I could see Andy trying to gain his feet. I didn't know how seriously Andy was injured, but his temporal artery had been cut and his heart was pumping his blood over the side. I knew I was hurt and I had gone numb on the right side almost immediately after the hammer blow, but in the confusion and screaming and yelling I never connected left brain-right side.

That's when Auburn emerged with a spear gun.

It was divine intervention — nothing will ever shake my resolve on that — for we were dead men! Immediately I realized that the only thing that I had to fight with was the airplane. I pulled back on the yoke — aggressively — and David, Andy and Auburn exited the cockpit. They were all gone! They had all tumbled into the back. I was going to roll the airplane, but I was also thinking that Auburn might figure out that what I was going to do was a modified barrel roll, that he would just wait for it to come right side up again. I could hear yelling and fighting, but I didn't know who's winning, and I didn't know if I'm helping or hurting the situation. So I stopped the roll at 140 degrees — according to the flight data recorder— and kind of split-S'd it from about 18,000 feet to about 12,000.

The autothrottles were on, with max climb power selected, and as soon as the nose came through I realized I was really ripping. I had to reach over with my left hand, disconnect the autothrottle, sweep them back to idle, reach back and reacquire the yoke. There was a lot of wind noise and I could feel the airplane entering mach tuck — buffeting — and I thought if I don't pull hard enough it's not going to matter, and if I pull too hard it's not going to matter! After I got the nose back near the horizon, I was kicking the rudders back and forth trying to keep him off balance. Fortunately Andy and David were able to subdue him. The grace of God!

Is there a lesson on how we handled this emergency? Yes! You take stock and work with what you've got. Establish a plan and work as a team. All of us were seriously or critically hurt before Auburn had the first scratch! We were way behind the power curve. I think that we collectively decided that we could just sit there and die, or we could die fighting as men. Oh yeah — never, NEVER give up, no matter how bad it looks — and for us it looked pretty damn bad.

And after you recovered from the dive you went back and fought while Dave approached and landed?

I was trying to contact Memphis Center, and I was having a lot of trouble with the mic. My Telex and my sunglasses were swept away in the struggle. I could push the switch, but I had to let go of the mic to release the switch. I just wanted to talk to somebody. I was in an unreal situation and even just talking to a controller would be like a lifeline, because they were in a sane world, different from ours. We were still 40 miles from Memphis and I kept asking for the heading, just to hear that voice again.

Dave and Andy were calling "Jim, get back here." There was terrible confusion. I didn't realize how badly they were hurt, they didn't know how badly I was hurt, but they were hollering so loud that I went back. I put the airplane on autopilot and I couldn't get out of the seat. I could hardly stand up, but when somehow I managed to stand up, I saw the autopilot disconnect. I imagine the rate gyros had not had time to settle down, and I reengaged the autopilot in control wheel steering mode, which just holds whatever attitude you've established.

When I got to the back they had Auburn on the floor in the forward cargo area, and there was blood everywhere, coats have come out of the coat lockers, there's paperwork everywhere, and blood on everything. Andy was lying on top of Auburn, David was standing over him, and all three of them looked like they had just run a marathon. They were anaerobic, gasping for breath. David had a hammer in one hand and a spear in the other.

The psychology of the whole affair was total madness — the images before me were completely out of context with what one would expect in the orderly, structured environment of the cockpit. Blood-slickened hand-to-hand combat had taken place here. Soon, round two would begin and last for an interminable 15 minutes.

We had a little discussion and we decided that because I was the largest, I would stay in the back and David would go back and land the plane. He handed me the spear and told me to use it if I had to. I didn't have the luxury of telling David that I felt like I might pass out any minute, that I was numb on one side, because if Auburn picked up on it — which I think he ultimately did anyway — he'd be liable to start attacking again.

I was trying to hold that spear with both hands and look as menacing as I possibly could — but my whole right arm was numb, and sometimes my right hand would simply slip off, leaving my arm dangling there like a dead weight. David's getting vectors back to Memphis, so the airplane's moving around, and it's hard for me to stand, and Auburn's beginning to struggle again. He started to get up and I just jumped on top of them. I had wrestled on and off in high school and college — intramural — and that helped, except I didn't have the use of the right side of my body. I just held on and tried to use my weight.

It's hard to subdue someone when you have to remain ever vigilant with muscles contracted, yet your opponent has the benefit of deciding when to relax and regroup, and that's just what was happening. I knew from the tension in his muscles and his breathing rate that he was getting ready to fight again. I could hold him, but I didn't have the ability to go on offense and stop him. There was a knife in my right pocket but I couldn't reach it, and to be honest, if I had had the use of my right side I would have killed him. At that moment I didn't think of him as a human — and this may sound callous to some — but more like a rabid animal that was trying very hard to kill us. He was cold and calculating and kept asking us to let him go and promising not to hurt us. I'll never forget that.

I remember talking to my dad about Kamikazes he saw in WWII. There was an airplane rolling in from a high altitude, and Dad flashed a challenge. This was the early mode of IFF [identification friend or foe]. The reply he got was muzzle flash, then the whole deck and and surrounding water erupted in a hail of enemy aircraft machine gun fire. Here's a guy who's trying as hard as he can to kill you, and doesn't care if he dies in the process. In fact, to him it's a glorious death! That's the situation we had with Auburn Calloway.

At one point David had gotten the airplane on downwind at 7,000 feet, and Auburn had enough strength to pull himself up on the jumpseats with Andy and me hanging onto him. I had him around the lower waist, and he was gouging my eyes with his thumbs, but I knew if I let go it was signing my death warrant. It felt like he was trying to push my eyes into my brain, but fortunately, the blood around my eyes was causing his thumbs to slip off. We all toppled off the chairs and fell to the floor and Andy grabbed one of the hammers and hit Auburn at least once with it.

I feel that Andy sometimes gets short shrift in the discussions concerning 705, but had it not been for his tenacity, we would have never made it. There was some good flying that day, and David did a masterful job of putting a damaged, overweight airplane on the runway, but people shouldn't overlook what Andy did. He was in that fight the entire time, and without him, there might not have been any good flying that day. He's tough as nails. David and I owe our lives to the character, stamina and loyalty of Andy Peterson.

You were on the floor when the plane landed?

Yes. I remember hearing the ground proximity warning system announcing 1,000 feet, 500 feet, and all the way down, and Auburn continued to struggle even as we rolled to a stop. He capitulated only after David came back from setting the parking brakes and shutting down the engines. David Teague was the paramedic who made it up the slides — although they're made for going down, not up — and he handcuffed Auburn.

I remember thinking that I had lived through the flight, but I might not make it beyond that. All of us were facing some life-threatening injuries. David nearly had an ear torn off, had multiple lacerations, fractures and concussions, and the spear just missed one of his arteries. Andy had lost lots of blood — he was five minutes from bleeding to death — and got a secondary infection afterwards. I got the worst of it as far as head trauma, with a depressed skull fracture and associated subdural hematoma — they had to go in and relieve the building pressure and remove the clot. About a week later, I developed a brain abscess and they weren't sure I was going to make it. They removed the offending bone flap — a craniotomy — irrigated what they could, closed me up (minus the bone flap), and prayed for the best. I had six hours of IV therapy a day for six weeks, until it wore out the veins in my arms. Then they put a catheter in my chest — using a local anesthetic because I was a neurological patient — and that was very uncomfortable, but at least I was through with needles. Then I began two and a half years of intensive physical therapy, speech therapy, cognitive therapy, occupational therapy — you name it, I had it. It was a race against time, because the more progress you make in a short time the greater your chances are for a full recovery.

I spent quite a bit of time in therapy at the Med, then at Baptist Central and graduated to a place called Physiotherapy Associates. I met Dr. Morris Ray early on in my treatment at the Med. He is chief neurosurgeon at Semmes-Murphy Clinic. He performed both the craniotomy and the cranioplasty which — in my operation — replaced the bone flap with a polymer acrylic substance that was machined to fit the cranial defect. Morris is a pilot and I've flown his airplanes, flew with him at Oshkosh, and did some formation flying with him. There are so many great people that helped me out. Dr. Robert Reeder, who is no longer with us — he succumbed to cancer — was an AME and plastic surgeon and he and Morris and Dr. Burriss patched me up when I had my last neurosurgery in 1996.

  OH-58
  Jim's Luscombe.

Not long after my last surgery, I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder. I didn't want to admit it or acknowledge it, and I reacted with shock, dismay and anger. I was a pilot, and pilots can't have seizure disorders. All through my life when I had a score to attain or a skill to acquire or a task to accomplish, there wasn't anything that hard work and a good attitude couldn't get you through. So I started working out again and began studying in depth about seizure disorders and their treatment. There are many kinds that manifest themselves in different ways, but they all mean the death knell for a medical certificate. I don't agree with that, but the FAA answers only to Congress. When you talk to the FAA about neurology, they tell you the answer is "no" before they know what the question is.

The maddening thing about this is I'm not talking about getting a first class medical to exercise an ATP rating. Obviously it's over for me. I have to adhere to a very regimented schedule, get up and go to bed on time, do the healthy things we all should do. But some days I'm like a NiCad battery — I can go and go and then, boom, that's it, I have to stop what I'm doing and rest. So as far as working on the back side of the clock, that's over. In fact, if I have a restless night, I'm fried the next day — and that didn't use to happen. A recreational license doesn't apply to a Luscombe — a Champ or a Cub, yes, but not a Luscombe.

So I fly with a good friend named Dirk Merrill, who is an aerial applicator — a crop duster. He's one of the finest men I've ever met and I really enjoy flying with him. Being a single-seater, I never really got used to flying with people, but I really enjoy flying with Dirk. There are a couple of guys from the company that drop in once in a while and we hop in the Luscombe and go for a ride.

Tell us about your Luscombe.

It's a '46 and I got it in 1991. It was at Ramon field outside of Jackson, Mississippi. I bought it from a guy who had bought it from an older gentleman who only flew it once a year. It has what's called a McKenzie conversion, an STC'd 150-horsepower Lycoming retrofit, and it's a real racehorse. It's challenging to fly, and a lot of fun to fly, and surprisingly it's a nice crosswind airplane. It has narrow gear and it is short-coupled, and if you don't let any side drift develop in the in the landing phase, you're fine. You must keep the aircraft pointed squarely down the runway at all times throughout the landing roll out. My first solo landing with it was at night. I have landed it in all kinds of winds, and I'd recommend anybody doing that to really get familiar with an airplane, especially a taildragger. It looks its age, it could use a paint job, but then I'd have to be careful with it.

I also have a little Airbike ultralight, high-wing, taildragger, 40-horse Rotax engine, with conventional flight controls — none of this wing-bending stuff for me. It flies like a little Cub.

I think any pilot would benefit from getting some time in a tailwheel. I get more satisfaction from landing my Luscombe on a windy day than I ever got out of flying a DC-10 in like conditions.

Are you in touch with David and Andy?

Not really. We talk maybe once or twice a year, and it's always positive and upbeat, but I told someone once that the very event that held us together is what keeps us apart. We had to deal with a trial in the middle of our recovery. Those were tough times, and there was no map for where we were going. There were three of us, with three different experiences, three sets of challenges, each of us had a different aftermath. When I found out that flying was over for me professionally, I had to get out of the area. It was too painful to watch airplanes flying in and out of Memphis. Living in rural Alabama has given me a kind of anonymity from the event, and that's fine with me.

The three of us spoke at Oshkosh in '98, then we went to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, and that was plenty for me appearing as a group. I might choose to speak on my own, but from a spiritual perspective.

Let's talk about divine intervention. You must have wondered what would have happened it you hadn't accepted that flight. Do you think you were chosen to be there?

I think of Kathy Morton sitting there, and she's such a sweetheart, and a good stick, too, and Rich Boyle — RB — also a good stick and a great guy. Then, there's the three of us, who by the grace of God, barely managed to get that airplane back on the ground. It would have been absolutely horrible with just the two of them against Auburn. If the whole thing had been choreographed, and everybody knew their part, knew where to move and what to say, and we had rehearsed it like actors — even then, we could never replicate or duplicate the outcome. I will never understand how the split-second timing of a thousand events dovetailed so precisely that we could get the plane on the ground in one piece. One thing is for certain — it didn't happen by luck or chance!

Control balance panels on the back of the elevators that weigh 200 pounds apiece, are ripped from the airplane. They're gone. The wings are dripping fuel from all the torquing I've done on the wing spars. Andy's dying from loss of blood but manages to hang on. I've got a depressed skull fracture. And we're fighting a selfish, cowardly individual who has convinced himself that he has nothing in this life to live for, with absolutely no consideration for our lives or for the lives of those on the ground — and we barely, barely have enough strength to get through the ordeal. So do I think that God had a hand in it? Absolutely right.

I think it's hard for people, and especially pilots, to think that they're not in control, that there's a greater power working through us. There is no doubt in my mind that God was working to foil Auburn's plans and to deliver Rich Boyle and Kathy Morton.

If you somehow knew ahead of time that by taking that flight you would give up your flying career, but in the process you'd save the lives of RB, Kathy, and save the company, would you still do it?

I don't know. I really don't know. We'll never know how horrible it could have been if Auburn had pulled off his plan. There might not be a Federal Express. A lot of innocent people would have died, and I know I would have lost my life. As the fight progressed he was getting stronger, and we were getting weaker, and I knew if David didn't get that airplane on the ground Auburn was going to finish Andy and me off, and then he'd finish David off. At that point, it was a race against the clock.

  Jim, Becky, Andy, Morgan, and Rachael Tucker
  Jim, Becky, Andy, Morgan, and Rachael Tucker

If the only way to continue living was to go back and go through this again I guess I would do it, but I don't look at it as a personal sacrifice. I look at it as God enabling us to be instruments in his hands. It was good versus evil, and there was plenty of evil posed to do some horrible things. And we just happened to be the guys who got the call.

When I came off the airplane, they didn't know if I was going to live or die — and if I did live, what kind of shape I'd be in. When they finally let you come home — and they don't just send you home, they give it to you in little two-hour temporary passes — they tell you, "Jim, things are going to be different." And boy, were they right. I couldn't negotiate stairs. I couldn't take the lid off a jar. It took forever to learn how to talk and to write legibly. I still have limited feeling in my right side to this day.

Knowing what the outcome was going to be, I'd have a hard time going through it again. My life has changed so radically. There are times when I feel very good about life, and other times when I don't feel good at all. It is this perpetual, paradoxical mental state that continues to baffle me. I continue to gain solace, strength and peace from The Word. I have learned a lot about myself, about other people, and about relying on God instead of myself. I have spent an inordinate amount of time with my three children, and that's a good thing that came out of this.

Are any of them interested in flying?

No. It drives me a little crazy sometimes, but I know better than to push aviation on them. When I was a child and saw a plane go by I would have done anything to see the machine up close and talk to the pilot. I'm no psychologist, but I think that my children have seen the downside of what aviation has to offer. First, I was gone for extended periods on trips, then I nearly died from injuries received during 705. Both my sons, Morgan and Andy, have excellent air sense, but aviation is not to them what it is to me. My daughter Rachael is an excellent horsewoman, and all three of my children are excellent marksmen — rifle, pistol or shotgun, take your pick. As a child, if someone offered me a flight, I'd ask "Where, and when do you want me to be there?" but I'm not getting that from my children and I'm not going to push it.

For a long time I identified myself by my job. I was proud of what I did and I loved it, and I couldn't believe they were paying me to do it! It was the dream of a lifetime, and I had worked very hard to attain the realization of that dream. I'm still going through the acceptance that I am no longer a professional pilot — it has been a tough transition! But I'm trying to teach my kids about the important things in life — things far more important than job satisfaction — as we continue to build our new life TOGETHER!


If you or someone you know has an interesting aviation story to tell, please send an Email to Joe Godfrey.