A Louisiana man is being hailed as a hero after he saved his girlfriend’s life by pushing her out of a crashing plane moments before he died, according to The Times-Picayune.
Reginald Hilliard Jr., 25, a Baton Rouge rapper and artist, was terrified of flying. Having never been in an aircraft in all his life, he was in for a surprise on his birthday this past Saturday when his girlfriend, Brianna Davis, bought him a trip in a Cessna aircraft so he could see what New Orleans looked like from the sky.
Unfortunately, however, it would turn out to be the only time Reginald would fly.
While the couple were up in the air, the pilot hit a rainstorm. Authorities corroborated that the pilot was experienced but decided against calling for help — perhaps hopeful that he would be able to make it to the Lakefront runway.
“The couple had hired the aircraft to take them on a night time flight around the city of New Orleans,” said Lakefront Airport Director Ben Morris.
“They did that, they were coming back in, and again, it appears they hit a little rain shower, a very significant rain shower, a rainstorm. They were making their approach to the airport, and at that point, they disappeared off the radar.”
Before the three of them knew it, the small Cessna flight tumbled its way viciously downward, and it was now that the Louisiana man probably made the most important decision of his life.
Almost certain that the flight would not reach the Lakefront runway, which was still a fair distance away, Reginald pushed Brianna out of the plane and into Lake Pontchartrain. According to Davis, Hilliard began kicking a side door and window in the plane, and was able to open it just enough to push his girlfriend out.
The woman was picked up by a good Samaritan and rushed to a nearby hospital.
But Reginald himself was not so lucky. According to WSDU, the Cessna plane took a nosedive and went straight into the bottom of the lake, giving the Louisiana man no chance of an escape. His body was found Tuesday morning along with the pilot’s, who was found buckled to his seat.
Hilliard’s family grieved as they saw rescue workers lift the plane from the lake on Tuesday morning. The young man’s father, Reginald Hillard Sr., said he could not believe when the rescue workers said that his son’s body was found in the wrecked plane.
“They said that he was in the plane. I still didn’t believe it. My son’s a fighter. He refused to give up. He refused to quit,” he said.
Reginald’s cousin, Yolanda White, said the Louisiana man was a devoted father who left behind three children, the eldest being only five years old. Although completely devastated by the loss, White said Reginald Hilliard Jr. will be remembered for his heroism in the face of certain death.
“He has a daughter who is five and she always called him her best friend, she always says her daddy is her best friend,” White said of Reginald’s relationship with his children.
He’s the hero. He was a hero living. You know, he died that way. This was his first plane flight ever. First time he flew on a plane. And it was a surprise from his girlfriend Brianna.”
Meanwhile, the pilot of the Cessna aircraft, who was identified as Jim Biondo, 58, was also remembered by his colleagues. Lindy Hammonds, an aircraft mechanic and friend, said that Jim had been doing trips for couples in the New Orleans sky for ages.
“He would drive an hour each way just to come fly an hour tour,” she told WWLTV.
“Just a good guy. A good pilot. I know from things that were said the people that were on the tour with him enjoyed it. They had a good time. They had a great flight,” she added.
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