Watch CBSN Live

From Hero To Trainer Of Derby Winner

The trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was a big winner before he ever set foot on the track this past weekend.

Michael Matz helped save three children from a fiery plane crash nearly 17 years ago.

The three were reunited with their hero at Churchill Downs before the race.

All four

The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler Monday.

Barbaro blew away the rest of the field Saturday, taking the first leg of horse racing's prestigious Triple Crown by a commanding six-and-a-half lengths.

But it wasn't the biggest victory of Matz' life, not by a long shot.

In July 1989, he and the three youngsters were on United Airlines flight 232 when it crashed near the airport in Sioux City, Iowa., broke apart and burst into flames killing 111 people died while 185 survived.

Matz and his fiancée, D.D. Alexander, who is now his wife, were returning to Pennsylvania from Hawaii. Jody, Melissa, and Travis Roth, ages 14, 12 and 9, were traveling from Denver to Albany to visit their grandmother. Jody, who wanted a window seat, sat a few rows ahead of his siblings, who were sitting next to Matz. Alexander was seated further ahead.

The Roth children, who are now adults, recall Matz helping them safely escape the wreckage, and Matz and Alexander acting as substitute parents during the fast-moving event.

Melissa, whose last name is now Radcliffe, says she and her brothers were so shielded from events that when they saw the wreckage of the DC-10 on TV, they didn't realize it was the plane they were on.

Matz, who is now 55, is a champion equestrian. He has competed in the Olympics three times, winning a team silver medal at the 1996 games in Atlanta.

Matz told Syler Monday, "It was good to see them" at Saturday's race, "and I'm glad they're doing so well. And they're all grown up now, and it was a lot of fun to see them again."

Melissa says: "I remember a lot about the plane crash and Michael, obviously. It was a pretty scary thing at the time. And Michael did his best to make sure that we stayed calm and didn't really be affected by it too much. We didn't really understand what was going on.

"They said it was going to be a rough landing, and I thought that we'd land and the slides would come out and we'd get to slide down the slides. So we really, since we were so young, I think we believed that everything was going to be OK."

Travis says Matz did all he could to keep the siblings calm: "From what I remember, we were playing cards. We were talking (about) just about anything that came up. I remember there was a horse race on, they were showing something about Secretariat. It's come full circle now!"

Jody, now the father of two children, says looking back through the prism of parenthood makes what Matz did even more special.

"It really does," he said, "and it's nice to know, as a parent, that there's good people out there that will come to the aid of, you know, kids, and I know Michael was just doing what any of, I'd like to think everybody else would have done, as well."

Jody described seeing Matz' horse win Saturday as "extremely exciting. We couldn't have asked for anything better. Not only just being there, but to share in the success of it win or lose. But obviously, (it was a) great victory."

Matz says Barbaro "looks like he came out of the race well, and we're all just recovering from the exciting weekend we had. … We'll take a look at him the next couple days, but hopefully, if everything goes as planned, we'll enter in the Preakness and keep our fingers crossed.

"We've always thought he was a pretty special horse. And at this point, he looked like he was pretty special on Saturday. And it would sure be nice to have a Triple Crown winner."

And he says he hopes Melissa, Travis and Jody can be at Pimlico for that second leg of the Triple Crown.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.