A Colorado pilot is being hailed a hero. He was in his glider Saturday with two passengers when suddenly the plane towing them slammed into another plane in midair. He and his passengers are alive because of his quick thinking and the decision he made just in the nick of time.
An amateur video captured the plane's smoking nosedive, the aftermath of a mid-air collision over North Boulder, Colo.
Just moments before, Reuben Bakker, a glider pilot for Mile High Gliding, was being towed into the air at 8,000 feet. Brandi Hepburn and her 11-year-old son Javen McDonald were looking forward to sightseeing on a calm day.
Minutes after the plane took off, Bakker saw a plane coming from the right, headed directly towards the 200-foot tow rope, separating his glider from the tow plane. Thinking that the plane was going to hit the rope, he reached for the knob to release the tow rope. The two planes collided in front of him. Bakker sharply gained altitude and banked to the right through an enormous ball of flame and black smoke, landing safely minutes later.
Bakker said on "The Early Show" he didn't have a lot of time.
"It looked like it was going to hit the rope," he said. "I immediately reached for (the rope). By the time went onto the knob, the plane already struck the other plane. It didn't hit the rope at all."
Hepburn said she was "horrified" as she and her son flew through the wreckage a second later.
"We felt the heat of the flames as we rode through the fireball," she said.
Hepburn said all she could think about was that the people in the tow plane didn't make it.
"I knew that we had avoided any danger miraculously. I knew that we were OK. I just was worried about the people in the planes," she said.
The crash killed all three people in both planes.
Bakker said the planes were not doing anything illegal. He said they were allowed to be in the same airspace.
"There are no rules against what was going on. I don't know where the (other plane) was going, but obviously, prior to the impact, I could see that all the planes were in level flight doing their job. We were in basically a slight climb, but level. It was dead smooth, so you could tell if someone was going to do a quick reaction, and there was nothing," Bakker said. "...It was as if nobody saw anything. They're obviously distracted or something."
Hepburn said she's thought "a million" times in the past few days about how lucky she and her son are to be alive.
She said, "I think I'm still in shock."
Hepburn's son Javen told "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith he was a bit too short to see over the glider's rim. He said he saw the explosion, but he didn't see the plane.
Smith said, "That's probably a blessing."