Jim Tucker

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.

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Jim TuckerJames Morgan Tucker, Jr. was bornSeptember 7, 1951, in Miami, Fla. He grew up two blocks from MIA with A&Psfor neighbors, and watched Eastern Airlines transition from props to jets. Hewent to college in Alabama looking at a law career, but a carrier aviationposter 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 weaponsinstructor and a combat maneuvering instructor for the A-4. After the Navy heflew 737s for People Express until FedEx called in October of ’84. At FedEx hestarted in the back seat of the 727, moved to right seat, transitioned to rightseat in the DC-10, began captain upgrade in the 727 and was offered a positionas 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 FedExengineer named Auburn Calloway, who knew that he was about to be fired, hadbought weapons to use on his two crewmates on Flight 705. He knew his flyingdays were over so his plan was to disable the crew and crash the airplane, whichwould give a nice insurance policy to his survivors. The originally scheduledcrew — including Calloway — had logged a minute over the eight-hour rule ontheir inbound flight, so FedEx schedulers assembled a replacement crew for theout-and-back to San Jose later that afternoon. They called Captain DavidSanders, Flight Engineer Andy Peterson, and asked Captain Jim Tucker to flyright-seat. When they boarded the airplane that afternoon, Calloway was alreadyonboard in the jumpseat. About 20 minutes into the flight, Calloway attacked thecrew, 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 knockCalloway off balance. David and Andy subdued the attacker, then David and Jimswapped places. Jim and Andy stayed in the forward cargo area to contain andfight Calloway, while David returned the aircraft to Memphis. Thanks to somemiraculous flying, everyone survived, including FedEx headquarters and who knowshow many employees who would have perished in the crash. Calloway is serving alife sentence with no chance of parole.

That was the last medical Jim got. And though he has the right to be bitterabout the attack that ended his professional flying career, he’s a positive manwith a deep faith in God. He moved his family from Memphis to rural Alabama, isa dedicated husband, father of three and Sunday School teacher. Jim volunteershis time as chairman of the Headland Airport Authority (0J6), and is a boardmember of the Alabama Council of Aviation. He keeps his Luscombe — which heflies 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 voiceonce or twice in my whole life, but you instinctively knew that if he told youto do something you had better do it. He grew up in rural Florida, in a brokenfamily, with an abusive stepfather. Eventually he was sent to a little fishingvillage called Stuart, Fla., to be raised by his grandmother, who was a bridgetender on the St. Lucie river. Bridge tending meant you had to open the bridgeany time of the day or night for river travel, and it meant cleaning and repairof the bridge. So during the depression, he was out there cleaning lanterns onthe bridge at a very tender age. He got to know the river, made his own kayaksand sailboats, got into scouting, and has good memories about growing up in thatenvironment.

He dropped out of high school to join the Navy and fight the war, and gotinto the enlisted pilot program, but he was subsequently washed out because hedidn’t have a high school diploma. It was a classic case of militaryintelligence — after they washed him out of pilot training they sent him to theUniversity of Chicago because his test scores were so high. He spent about fouryears in, on and around PT boats in the Guadalcanal area and the Solomon chainwith the USS Jamestown — AGP3. He doesn’t talk too much about what he saw outthere.

The great majority of the men that returned from the horrors of that war didso with a sense of thankfulness and humility, immediately began the transitionfrom warrior to responsible citizen, raised families and accomplished greatthings. My father was no exception. In October of 1946 he married the formerEvelyn Butcher, and I and my younger sister are the result of that union. We hada stable, loving family environment — my sister and I were baptized, grew upin, and were confirmed at Grace Lutheran Church. Dad worked for Southern Bellfor 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 flownwith me, and one time I put him in a six-axis simulator at Kingsville, Texas, andhe did quite well. When he flies with me he’s got good air sense, he navigatesvery 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 InternationalAirport. I could see the Eastern Airlines hangars from NW 36th Street, and as Igrew up I watched Eastern go from the prop age to the jet age. Our next-doorneighbor was a mechanic for Eastern, my godparents were across the street, andhe — Pa Gable — was a mechanic for Pan Am. I remember going to see them in theshops when I was very young. Old hands at Eastern told me that at one time itwouldn’t be uncommon to see EddieRickenbacker making his way through the shops, just saying hello. I attendedGlenn H. Curtiss elementary school. So, from the first time I can remember I’vealways 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 thecountry. I thought about pursuing law, and I found out that the Navy had a JAGCorps 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 acarrier with airplanes taking off and landing, which I figured was only forAcademy graduates, and then I found out that the Navy also had an AviationOfficer Candidate School. In the time between college and the Navy, I had a jobworking nights so I could fly during the day, and I picked up a private licenseright before I went in the Navy. It was very competitive because the situationin Vietnam was starting to slow down and they had a lot of pilots in thepipeline.

My class started at NAS Pensacola with about 42 people, and in about a weekwe were down to about 22. Eight of us got our wings, and three of us got to flyjets, and I was one of them. I got my first choice — flying A-7Es — from theKennedy and the Eisenhower. We were gone all the time. Our first cruise was ninemonths. My wife and I had been married only a short time and she likes to travelas 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 Pensacolaand 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 goback to Jax and transition into the F/A-18. I had been in Pensacola only 18months and we had our first child — a son, Morgan. If I accepted the orders andprogressed 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 myactive duty participation in December of 1981. A couple of years later Iresigned my commission and they "piped me over the side" as aLieutenant 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 belooking for an airline job, but somebody told me about this little upstartcarrier 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 121training school.

In my first year I upgraded from first officer to captain in the B-737, andlater I became a check airman and an IOE instructor on 737s. You had to have astaff position as well as your pilot job, and I became a dispatcher, too. It wasgood training except we were all starving. I had tried to get on with FederalExpress 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 FedExcalled, 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 ofthe 727, then to the right seat of the DC-10, and was ready to come back to theleft seat of the 727. I was already previously type-rated in the 727. Theupgrade to captain had taken a little longer because FedEx had acquired FlyingTigers, and there were seniority issues to be ironed out. During the upgradeclass to captain B-727, the company asked — and I accepted — a position as aDC-10 flex instructor. Essentially it meant upgrade to captain on the DC-10 andinstruct and check, while being paid at the pay rate of a 727 captain. Once myseniority would actually let me hold the left seat of the DC-10, I would be paidat that rate.

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

How did you wind up on that flight? Weren’t you planning to fly yourLuscombe that day?

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

Was there nothing suspicious about him?

Nothing whatsoever. I had heard his name before, and heard folks speak abouthim. 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 thesestories in the context that people oftentimes aren’t at their best flying longtrips on the back side of the clock. I had forgotten about that particularstory, but it became patently clear in a few minutes after takeoff that Auburnwasn’t a nice guy!

When we met him we were under duress trying to get to the airplane and pushback on time, and I had screwed up and left the paperwork in the office, becausethat’s normally not a captain’s job, but I was flying this trip as firstofficer. We were late, too, because the bus driver had made a wrong turn, soinstead of being first to be dropped off, we were last. I met Auburn as I cameup the stairs to the airplane, but we saw jumpseaters every day and he was justanother jumpseater in uniform.

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

Every situation is different, and you just have to deal with what you’ve gotat 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 shootingthe breeze about the terrain around Crowley’s ridge. Flights are typically busyand 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 theairplane and run the checklists.. Then at altitude you usually go to autopilotand it often stays that way until you start the descent.

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

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

Even in that mental state, I reasoned that Auburn’s primary purpose inattacking was to take control of the aircraft. We were insignificant, disposableassets to be thoughtlessly dispatched. He had a definite mission, and we were inthe 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 flamedout the engines, disabled the ignition, and there was no way we could haverestarted the engines fighting him off. So I knew that he wanted the airplane. Icould see David trying to unstrap and fight, and I could see Andy trying to gainhis feet. I didn’t know how seriously Andy was injured, but his temporal arteryhad been cut and his heart was pumping his blood over the side. I knew I washurt and I had gone numb on the right side almost immediately after the hammerblow, but in the confusion and screaming and yelling I never connected leftbrain-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 tofight with was the airplane. I pulled back on the yoke — aggressively — andDavid, Andy and Auburn exited the cockpit. They were all gone! They had alltumbled into the back. I was going to roll the airplane, but I was also thinkingthat Auburn might figure out that what I was going to do was a modified barrelroll, that he would just wait for it to come right side up again. I could hearyelling and fighting, but I didn’t know who’s winning, and I didn’t know if I’mhelping 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 about18,000 feet to about 12,000.

The autothrottles were on, with max climb power selected, and as soon as thenose came through I realized I was really ripping. I had to reach over with myleft hand, disconnect the autothrottle, sweep them back to idle, reach back andreacquire the yoke. There was a lot of wind noise and I could feel the airplaneentering mach tuck — buffeting — and I thought if I don’t pull hard enoughit’s not going to matter, and if I pull too hard it’s not going to matter! AfterI got the nose back near the horizon, I was kicking the rudders back and forthtrying to keep him off balance. Fortunately Andy and David were able to subduehim. The grace of God!

Is there a lesson on how we handled this emergency? Yes! You take stock andwork with what you’ve got. Establish a plan and work as a team. All of us wereseriously or critically hurt before Auburn had the first scratch! We were waybehind the power curve. I think that we collectively decided that we could justsit there and die, or we could die fighting as men. Oh yeah — never, NEVER giveup, 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 Daveapproached and landed?

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

Dave and Andy were calling "Jim, get back here." There was terribleconfusion. I didn’t realize how badly they were hurt, they didn’t know how badlyI was hurt, but they were hollering so loud that I went back. I put the airplaneon autopilot and I couldn’t get out of the seat. I could hardly stand up, butwhen somehow I managed to stand up, I saw the autopilot disconnect. I imaginethe rate gyros had not had time to settle down, and I reengaged the autopilot incontrol wheel steering mode, which just holds whatever attitude you’veestablished.

When I got to the back they had Auburn on the floor in the forward cargoarea, 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 ofAuburn, David was standing over him, and all three of them looked like they hadjust run a marathon. They were anaerobic, gasping for breath. David had a hammerin one hand and a spear in the other.

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

We had a little discussion and we decided that because I was the largest, Iwould stay in the back and David would go back and land the plane. He handed methe spear and told me to use it if I had to. I didn’t have the luxury of tellingDavid 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 Ipossibly could — but my whole right arm was numb, and sometimes my right handwould simply slip off, leaving my arm dangling there like a dead weight. David’sgetting vectors back to Memphis, so the airplane’s moving around, and it’s hardfor me to stand, and Auburn’s beginning to struggle again. He started to get upand I just jumped on top of them. I had wrestled on and off in high school andcollege — intramural — and that helped, except I didn’t have the use of theright 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 withmuscles contracted, yet your opponent has the benefit of deciding when to relaxand regroup, and that’s just what was happening. I knew from the tension in hismuscles and his breathing rate that he was getting ready to fight again. I couldhold him, but I didn’t have the ability to go on offense and stop him. There wasa knife in my right pocket but I couldn’t reach it, and to be honest, if I hadhad the use of my right side I would have killed him. At that moment I didn’tthink of him as a human — and this may sound callous to some — but more like arabid animal that was trying very hard to kill us. He was cold and calculatingand kept asking us to let him go and promising not to hurt us. I’ll never forgetthat.

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

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

I feel that Andy sometimes gets short shrift in the discussions concerning705, but had it not been for his tenacity, we would have never made it. Therewas some good flying that day, and David did a masterful job of putting adamaged, overweight airplane on the runway, but people shouldn’t overlook whatAndy did. He was in that fight the entire time, and without him, there might nothave been any good flying that day. He’s tough as nails. David and I owe ourlives 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 1,000feet, 500 feet, and all the way down, and Auburn continued to struggle even aswe rolled to a stop. He capitulated only after David came back from setting theparking brakes and shutting down the engines. David Teague was the paramedic whomade it up the slides — although they’re made for going down, not up — and hehandcuffed Auburn.

I remember thinking that I had lived through the flight, but I might not makeit beyond that. All of us were facing some life-threatening injuries. Davidnearly 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 — hewas five minutes from bleeding to death — and got a secondary infectionafterwards. I got the worst of it as far as head trauma, with a depressed skullfracture and associated subdural hematoma — they had to go in and relieve thebuilding pressure and remove the clot. About a week later, I developed a brainabscess and they weren’t sure I was going to make it. They removed the offendingbone flap — a craniotomy — irrigated what they could, closed me up (minus thebone flap), and prayed for the best. I had six hours of IV therapy a day for sixweeks, until it wore out the veins in my arms. Then they put a catheter in mychest — using a local anesthetic because I was a neurological patient — andthat was very uncomfortable, but at least I was through with needles. Then Ibegan two and a half years of intensive physical therapy, speech therapy,cognitive therapy, occupational therapy — you name it, I had it. It was a raceagainst time, because the more progress you make in a short time the greateryour chances are for a full recovery.

I spent quite a bit of time in therapy at the Med, then at Baptist Centraland graduated to a place called Physiotherapy Associates. I met Dr. Morris Rayearly on in my treatment at the Med. He is chief neurosurgeon at Semmes-MurphyClinic. He performed both the craniotomy and the cranioplasty which — in myoperation — replaced the bone flap with a polymer acrylic substance that wasmachined to fit the cranial defect. Morris is a pilot and I’ve flown hisairplanes, 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 nolonger with us — he succumbed to cancer — was an AME and plastic surgeon andhe and Morris and Dr. Burriss patched me up when I had my last neurosurgery in1996.

  OH-58
  Jim’s Luscombe.

Not long after my last surgery, I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder. Ididn’t want to admit it or acknowledge it, and I reacted with shock, dismay andanger. I was a pilot, and pilots can’t have seizure disorders. All through mylife 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 youthrough. So I started working out again and began studying in depthabout seizure disorders and their treatment. There are many kinds that manifestthemselves in different ways, but they all mean the death knell for a medicalcertificate. I don’t agree with that, but the FAA answers only to Congress. Whenyou 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 classmedical to exercise an ATP rating. Obviously it’s over for me. I have to adhereto a very regimented schedule, get up and go to bed on time, do the healthythings we all should do. But some days I’m like a NiCad battery — I can go andgo and then, boom, that’s it, I have to stop what I’m doing and rest. So as faras working on the back side of the clock, that’s over. In fact, if I have arestless night, I’m fried the next day — and that didn’t use to happen. Arecreational license doesn’t apply to a Luscombe — a Champ or a Cub, yes, butnot 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 enjoyflying with him. Being a single-seater, I never really got used to flying withpeople, but I really enjoy flying with Dirk. There are a couple of guys from thecompany that drop in once in a while and we hop in the Luscombe and go for aride.

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 gentlemanwho only flew it once a year. It has what’s called a McKenzie conversion, anSTC’d 150-horsepower Lycoming retrofit, and it’s a real racehorse. It’schallenging to fly, and a lot of fun to fly, and surprisingly it’s a nicecrosswind airplane. It has narrow gear and it is short-coupled, and if you don’tlet any side drift develop in the in the landing phase, you’re fine. You mustkeep the aircraft pointed squarely down the runway at all times throughout thelanding roll out. My first solo landing with it was at night. I have landed itin all kinds of winds, and I’d recommend anybody doing that to really getfamiliar with an airplane, especially a taildragger. It looks its age, it coulduse a paint job, but then I’d have to be careful with it.

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

I think any pilot would benefit from getting some time in a tailwheel. I getmore satisfaction from landing my Luscombe on a windy day than I ever got out offlying 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 andupbeat, but I told someone once that the very event that held us together iswhat 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 werethree of us, with three different experiences, three sets of challenges, each ofus had a different aftermath. When I found out that flying was over for meprofessionally, I had to get out of the area. It was too painful to watchairplanes flying in and out of Memphis. Living in rural Alabama has given me akind 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 Flightin Seattle, and that was plenty for me appearing as a group. I might choose tospeak on my own, but from a spiritual perspective.

Let’s talk about divine intervention. You must have wondered what wouldhave happened it you hadn’t accepted that flight. Do you think you were chosento be there?

I think of Kathy Morton sitting there, and she’s such a sweetheart, and agood 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 getthat airplane back on the ground. It would have been absolutely horrible withjust 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 hadrehearsed it like actors — even then, we could never replicate or duplicate theoutcome. I will never understand how the split-second timing of a thousandevents dovetailed so precisely that we could get the plane on the ground in onepiece. 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 poundsapiece, are ripped from the airplane. They’re gone. The wings are dripping fuelfrom all the torquing I’ve done on the wing spars. Andy’s dying from loss ofblood but manages to hang on. I’ve got a depressed skull fracture. And we’refighting a selfish, cowardly individual who has convinced himself that he hasnothing in this life to live for, with absolutely no consideration for our livesor for the lives of those on the ground — and we barely, barely have enoughstrength 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’renot in control, that there’s a greater power working through us. There is nodoubt in my mind that God was working to foil Auburn’s plans and to deliver RichBoyle and Kathy Morton.

If you somehow knew ahead of time that by taking that flight you wouldgive 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 couldhave been if Auburn had pulled off his plan. There might not be a FederalExpress. A lot of innocent people would have died, and I know I would have lostmy life. As the fight progressed he was getting stronger, and we were gettingweaker, and I knew if David didn’t get that airplane on the ground Auburn wasgoing 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 Iguess I would do it, but I don’t look at it as a personal sacrifice. I look atit 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 justhappened 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 youcome home — and they don’t just send you home, they give it to you in littletwo-hour temporary passes — they tell you, "Jim, things are going to bedifferent." And boy, were they right. I couldn’t negotiate stairs. Icouldn’t take the lid off a jar. It took forever to learn how to talk and towrite 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 throughit again. My life has changed so radically. There are times when I feel very good about life, and other times when I don’t feelgood at all. It is this perpetual, paradoxical mental state that continues tobaffle me. I continue to gain solace, strength and peace from The Word. I havelearned a lot about myself, about other people, and about relying on God insteadof myself. I have spent an inordinate amount of time with my three children, andthat’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 pushaviation on them. When I was a child and saw a plane go by I would have doneanything 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 tooffer. First, I was gone for extended periods on trips, then I nearly died frominjuries received during 705. Both my sons, Morgan and Andy, have excellent airsense, but aviation is not to them what it is to me. My daughter Rachael is anexcellent horsewoman, and all three of my children are excellent marksmen —rifle, pistol or shotgun, take your pick. As a child, if someone offered me aflight, I’d ask "Where, and when do you want me to be there?" but I’mnot 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 andI loved it, and I couldn’t believe they were paying me to do it! It was thedream of a lifetime, and I had worked very hard to attain the realization ofthat dream. I’m still going through the acceptance that I am no longer aprofessional pilot — it has been a tough transition! But I’m trying to teach mykids about the important things in life — things far more important than jobsatisfaction — 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.