August 31, 2010

Phillips reflects on tragic time


Andrew Phillips recalled the details about an Aug. 9 plane crash that killed his father and thrust his brother into a heroic role.

William "Bill" Phillips, 56, a lawyer and lobbyist, died in the crash of a float plane in southwestern Alaska. The crash also killed former Sen. Ted Stevens and three others. The group was on a fishing trip.


Can you talk about where and when you found out about the crash?
It was a tough day. We had our first day of practice and got done with meetings, got back and was hanging out at the dorm. Pretty typical first day, everyone was excited, everyone was ready to go. Lot of good things happening, the start of a good camp.

I got a call around 3:30, 4:00 in the morning from back home. Didn't hear it the first time, but they called again and again and I finally hear it and its my mom. She told me there was a plane crash and that they knew at the time that there were some dead and some alive, they didn't know exactly who. And that she knew both my brother and my dad were on the plane. She just told me to pray, and call coach and let him know I was probably going to be out.

When did you first see your brother?
I got up to Seattle that day to be with my aunt and uncle and within an hour I was on my way to Anchorage. I was the first one to get to my brother at the hospital. And he was actually doing very well when I saw him. As you can expect I was pretty scared going in there, thinking my brother was going to be lying there with tubes and things coming out of his cheat and not being able to talk. But I walk in and he is joking around with the nurses. He had a gash in his leg and the first thing he told me was, hey take a picture of it, I can't see it, I want to see it. He was real playful and happy. He was excited and happy to be getting taken care of, and he was excited to see me. And that was a big relief.

It's funny, I've learned through this whole experience. That even when things get really bad there is still a lot to be thankful for, and the fact that I walked in that day and saw my brother smiling at me, joking around, that was just an unbelievable blessing.

When did you find out your father had died?
I found out after I got off the plane in Seattle. I was checking my phone constantly, it was one of those flights where you could buy Wi-Fi for the flight so I checking it. I was emailing everyone. And when I got off the plane I called my aunt and asked if she had any news and she just told me. Your brother is OK, but your dad didn't make it. I was the first one in my family to find out so I called my brothers to let them know and called my mom.

From reports your brother was a real hero in helping rescuers see the plane
From what I understand from talking to all the rescue personnel, and we actually had a chance to meet all of them, which was just incredible to be able to see them and shake their hands.

And that was another thing, when the crash first happened all we knew was that there were some dead and some alive. But there were people there that were taking care of them, and a big group of those people were just people that lived in that area. People in the Dillingham area, bush pilots who just knew there was a plane down and said 'plane down, let's go find it'. Those people are real heroes.

But Willy was the only one who was mobile at all when the plane went down. A couple of hours before a doctor arrived at the crash site it was basically Willy taking care of everybody. Everyone I talked to said he just had this kind of calm and strength about him that helped everyone.

The first plane that got to them, Willy jumped out of the plane, it was a pretty considerable drop to get to ground level and he banged his foot up pretty good. It was already hurt, but that kind of did it in. he trudged his way up the mountain to flag down the rescue plane. And when they saw there was in fact survivors that changed the game completely because up till then they assumed the plane went down and everybody died.

What did you find out about your brother from this
I always knew he was a tough kid, when he was a toddler he was attacked by Great Dane and he's got scars all over from it. It was my brother Paul who saved him, came in and kicked the dog away. But even through that Willy recovered, got his treatment, got his Band-Aids on and said OK, this is how it is. He didn't complain at all. He just kind of accepted it, he knew it was a hardship he was going to have to go through and he treated this the exact same way.

And all the survivors and medics who were there, that was all the they could talk about. I introduced myself as Willy's brother and Bill's son, they would just rave on and on, your brother is a hero, your brother is a great kid. Your brother did this, he did that. Willy did this for me. Like I said, I knew he was a tough kid, but that really made me proud.

Is he back home now?
He actually started school today, he is still in a wheelchair. He broke his wrist, a bone in his face, and then his foot pretty bad. He's had several surgeries and will need several more.

Did he talk about how he was able to survive the crash?
When I first got there I didn't want to press him too much about the crash. Because I knew it was obviously a very traumatic thing. But all he told me was asleep when it happened and woke up to a big bang.

Was your father able to attend may of your games?
He came to a lot of games, he found a way to get to a lot of games. It seems a little unbelievable that being on the east coast he could find a way to make over half of all of our games. Between myself and my three brothers. Which is amazing when you consider Willy is in 8th grade and would play on Wednesdays or Thursdays, Paul played on Fridays, Colter played Saturdays, and so did I, and the fact he was able to get over half the games for all of us is insane, but he did it. He would see a Friday night game, if Paul was playing then, and hop on a red eye at Dulles be into San Francisco early in the morning, not sleep the whole night and be at a 3:30 game for us. And he did it all the time.

Is the offensive line planning on doing anything as a tribute?
Chase stood up and asked that I be made honorary captain for the game, that was something I am really grateful for as a tribute to my dad and my family.

How did your teammates respond?
I love this team, and I would do anything for anyone on this team, and they know that. They know that and I know the same is true for me, especially after all of this. The support I have received from guys that not only play now, but from guys that have played in the past has been unbelievable. I never had to go through anything alone. I knew that I never had to go through anything alone, because I knew I had two families on both sides of the country.

Rick Jones is the Publisher for CardinalReport.com. Rick Jones can be reached at cardinalreport.com@gmail.com.
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