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Plane crash, brain injury mark challenging path for Cheney senior

Aiden Hubbard is set to graduate from Cheney High School. (COURTESY / Courtesy photo)
Aiden Hubbard is set to graduate from Cheney High School. (COURTESY / Courtesy photo)

Aiden Hubbard’s high school career did not start off the way he expected.

The Cheney High School student survived a plane crash that killed the pilot, his uncle, 45-year-old Jay Uusitalo.

“That basically shaped my entire high school career,” Hubbard said. “It definitely wasn’t the way I expected it would be. It wasn’t a normal four years of high school.”

Hubbard suffered a traumatic brain injury, broken vertebrae, severe lacerations, burns and internal injuries. It took rescuers about 15 minutes to free the teen from the wreckage, and he was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

Hubbard, who was 15 at the time, was initially listed in critical condition but improved to serious condition the next day. While the injuries continue to affect him – particularly the brain injury – things could have been much worse, he said.

Now, he’s about to earn his high school diploma, but the path to graduation was extremely challenging, physically and emotionally.

“It was hard,” he said. “It was really hard.”

His band director, Rich Sonnemaker, said Hubbard is “a very hard worker” and despite his trials, has been an inspiration, showing what dedication and perseverance can do.

“Aiden is a perfect example of that,” he said.

An investigation determined that a small amount of water in the small plane’s gas tank caused the engine to stall midflight at about 1,000 feet, leading it to crash into a home in Western Washington near Woodinville.

“When the engine went out, it was just dead silent,” he said. “It was definitely shocking. All I could do is just say a little prayer.”

Hubbard said Uusitalo was an experienced pilot and meticulous about safety, but there was nothing more he could have done to prevent the crash.

“It all happened really, really fast,” Hubbard said. “There’s a certain point where your adrenalin sort of kicks in and there’s just tunnel vision. I think as soon as the stall warning went on, I knew that we were probably going to crash.”

Hubbard said his uncle, who died at the scene of blunt force trauma, was somehow able to throw his body on Hubbard’s just before they crashed, possibly saving Hubbard’s life.

“That same thing that killed him would have killed me had he not done that,” he said. “He was one of the best men I knew.”

Hubbard had two rods and six screws surgically placed along his spine to stabilize it. Despite the severity of the crash and his injuries, he was walking just three days later. He said the brain injury affects his ability to recall information and read.

“It was quite the experience, but also in a way miraculous,” he said.

Hubbard credits his faith, family and teachers with giving him strength to overcome the obstacles to academic success that he’s faced. Despite what happened, Hubbard comes from a family of pilots, and he looks forward to flying again.

“I’ve been really pulled towards aviation,” he said.

First, he’s going to take some time to rest after his unusually challenging high school years. He is considering a career in aviation to improve safety, he said, “and that would be something that I would be extremely passionate about.”


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