HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three days after a fighter jet crashed into the ocean off Oahu’s southern shore, the man behind the controls spoke publicly from his hospital room this weekend.
Pilot Matt Pothier, 47, was upbeat and feeling good Saturday as he addressed local media outlets.
“I woke up this morning at about 5 a.m. and the pain was mostly gone," Pothier said after undergoing back surgery as a result of the violent ejection from the aircraft moments before the crash.
The Hawker Hunter jet he was flying went down around 2:30 Wednesday afternoon about a mile offshore from Honolulu’s Kewalo Basin. Video captured the moments leading up to the crash in which the plane was seen quickly losing altitude.
Pothier recalled the entire incident. “I remember the whole thing. I remember the canopy coming off. I saw some daylight,” he said.
“I remember it was a beautiful day and we were looking forward to having a good flight and my airplane didn’t want to fly anymore. Then I remember being wet for a little while,” he smiled, referring to the minutes he spent in the water after parachuting from the plane.
Good Samaritans and Coast Guard officials rushed to the location and rescued Pothier within minutes.
He would not specifically say what went wrong with his aircraft pending the ongoing NTSB investigation, but he said once he realized something wasn’t right, he attempted to fly back to the runway at HNL.
“(I) didn’t quite have the airspeed or altitude left to do that," he said. “There’s buildings over there, there’s boats right there. That looks pretty open. So I just kept on flying until I didn’t really have any more options left, and pulled the ejection handle.”
It was his first time in his nearly 25 years of flying experience where he’s had to eject from an aircraft.
The ejection left him with a crushed vertebrae and a fracture in the spine, which he underwent surgery for and is currently recovering from.
Pothier hopes to be out of his body brace in about a month and is excited to resume his active lifestyle.
He’s also extremely grateful to the witness, Mack Ladner, who plucked him from the water moments after the crash.
“You can’t ask for a better more qualified person to be right there in an ejection scenario than Mack was. I was the most fortunate person ever.”
The retired U.S. Navy F-18 pilot has more than 4,200 hours in tactical aircraft, 750 aircraft carrier landings and has flown in more than 100 combat mission. But he says this experience doesn’t come close to the scariest time he’s been in an aircraft.
“When you fly military aircraft and you’re in combat getting shot at, that’s some challenging flying," Pothier said.
Pothier says his wife is also accustomed to these challenges, after being married to a fighter jet pilot for 21 years.
“When my daughter Abby was born, they allowed me to stay back for a few hours. And right after she was born, I jumped on an aircraft carrier and I go out with our air group and start the Iraqi War.”
Click below to watch the full interview: