Amazing Jeff

Reporter: Monika Kos

Jeff Woodward says "to have an incident or accident in aviation is a pilot's worse nightmare really."

Dr Patrick Briggs says "Theoretically, from an injury of this magnitude, he could've bled to death."

This is where Jeff Woodward is most content.. Gliding is in his blood... he took his first flight at just two and a half years old sitting on his mum's lap.. a family passion that almost cost him his life.

Jeff's case is remarkable.. somehow, this forty-eight year old father of two beat incredible odds... not only did he walk away from a horrific glider crash.. he also drove himself to hospital despite being seriously injured.. and survived a life threatening emergency.

The morning of Tuesday November 24 2003 was cool and breezy... not the best weather for a cross country flight.. still, Jeff was itching to get up there.

Jeff had been flying for around three hours when conditions deteriorated. He found a landing spot and began the descent onto a paddock on a farm near the wheatbelt town of Quairading.

"The approach to the paddock I distinctly remember being rather difficult because it was into the westerly sun and there was a fine mist on the canopy of the glider."

Now, glider pilots only get one shot at landing, their aircraft don't have an engine, so there's no room for error... Pilots are trained to consider all the risks.. the weather conditions, quality of the landing surface, trees, powerlines..Jeff, a pilot with thirty years experience admits he missed what he's trained to watch out for.. he made a mistake.

Jeff Woodward says "my first reaction was how can I be so foolish and not see them and even to this day I still curse myself for not seeing them."

Jeff lost sight of powerlines running along the edge of the paddock... his glider clipped the wires, which then slid across the nose of the aircraft, and along the wing. "i remember spinning in the air, a whirring noise happening which was obviously the powerline taking the left wing out."

"I remember just sitting there thinking, well what was that and then of course I distinctly remember a lot of blood suddenly appearing."

Jeff suffered serious injuries... almost the entire right side of his face had been ripped apart.. the skin torn back to the bone from his forehead to his mouth... he suffered multiple facial fractures... and didn't even know. "I actually couldn't work out where the blood was coming from I attempted to use the glider's radio, that was completely disabled."

Nobody saw the crash.. Nobody even knew exactly where Jeff had come down... it was literally a do or die situation... Jeff had no option but to rescue himself. "I reached back in and took the glider's cushion that I was sitting on and that was excellent, a nice big padded cushion which I held up to my face."

Bleeding profusely, Jeff climbed over four barbed wire fences, and staggered four hundred metres to the farmhouse... only to find nobody was there... but a car was parked outside and in typical country fashion, the keys were left in the ingnition.

"as I was driving out in the car I heard a voice it was actually the farmers voice on his two-way radio so of course that was wonderful news, I grabbed the two-way handpiece and I said to him, look ah, I've had an accident, I've stolen your car from your farmhouse."

The stolen car belonged to farmer Scott Richards, who was in his header when the emergency call came through.

Farmer Scott Richards says "he did kept saying I've lost half my face and when someone says that, you think he's got some cuts going on somewhere, but I didn't actually think he was being literal and that."

Using his radio, Scott directed Jeff to the hospital.. but that was almost thirty kilometres away.

Had you looked at yourself in the mirror, in the rear view mirror at this stage ? Not initially no, I was too busy trying to deal with the car and the two way it wasn't until I got out onto the main road that I looked in the mirror and pulled the cushion away and saw my face come away.

Jeff knew he had no time to spare, but his mercy dash was hampered by a wheat train blocking the road to the hosptial.. so, with new radio instuctions he was guided to another crossing... and the medical help he so desperately needed.

"I pulled up at the hospital in a big cloud of dust and the hospital knew I was coming of course, we all met at the door and I fell into a wheelchair and then I knew I was safe, it was a huge sense of relief when I got there because I knew I was going to be safe and I was probably going to live then."

Jeff was rushed to the waiting ambulance and flown to Perth for emergency surgery... amazingly, throughout his horrific ordeal... Jeff felt no pain.

"There was an odd sting now and again from obviously the laceration of my face not being there, I distinctly remember a few stings."

Doctor Patrick Briggs says "He was a trained pilot, he would've known how to deal with an emergency, he would've been focussing on getting help for himself, so he probably would've really put the pain to the back of his mind."

Plastic Surgeon Patrick Briggs says Jeff's a very lucky man... the injury itself was life threatening.. and the first operation was complicated. "in that there were lots of structures involved, there was not only the bones and the muscles, but also there was part of the attachment of the eye which had to be re-attached."

It was the first of five challenging operations... months of recovery... and a lifetime of suffering.

Jeff says "there's continuous bleeding going on inside the bridge of my nose, up between my eyes and a total feeling of numbness in one half of my face, those nerve endings haven't healed yet and may not do so, so I guess my face feels heavy as if it belongs to somebody else."

Remarkably, Jeff was back gliding just five weeks after the accident, comforted by the fact it was no fault of the aircraft. But it has taught him to make the most of life.. he's been given a second chance.. thanks to brilliant medical staff, and farmer Scott Richards.

"he was such a cool and collected character, his voice on the two way was so reassuring."

"Jeff, most people would say they could never do what you did, what do you say to people who tell you how amazing you are?"

"A lot of people have said that, there's nothing amazing about me at all, it;s just a human being's desire to keep living, nothing more than that I don't think."