GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — When their plane crashed at Greenville Downtown Airport last year, Marci Wilhelm and Steve Rose were in no condition to know who had saved their lives from the burning fuselage.
Wilhelm spent 42 days in the hospital after the Sept. 27 crash, and Rose, her husband, was there for nine days. They're both still dealing with the lingering effects of their injuries.
But once the initial shock had worn off, they began to think of all the first-responders who'd raced to the scene of the Dassault Falcon 50 jet, which careened off the runway, killing both pilots.
And on Saturday (Nov. 23), they hosted a breakfast at City Hall to thank them.
"So many of you that are first-responders who were working that day, I'm just beginning to be able to think and feel what you went through that day," Wilhelm told them. "And I am astounded and touched because I would never ever have the courage to run toward a bomb and risk your lives . . . to save somebody. And you've got to do that every day.
"This is really an appreciation from my family to you and all of yours."
"My wife and I are so appreciate of what every first-responder did for us, and the all the ancillary people . . . who showed up to help," said Rose. "This was something we felt compelled to do, to thank everybody and say, 'Hey, you saved our lives!'"
The day of the crash, Wilhelm and Rose were planning on a one-hour stop in Greenville to pick up friends. But the plane ran off the runway, crashing and catching fire.
"We were supposed to be here for an hour and spent 42 days here," Rose said. "We spent the last year putting our lives back together. This is our first time back."
Wilhelm, CEO of the staffing firm MedPartners at the time, was tangled in the wreckage while Rose, who is in the restaurant business, was found outside the aircraft, witness statements showed.
"It really was a miracle that the plane did not blow up," Wilhelm said.
First-responders had to use a rotary saw and hand tools to tunnel through the fuselage and extricate the pilots from the cockpit, both of whom were conscious when responders arrived, a witness report said.
The pilot, who was identified as John Christian Caswell by the Greenville County Coroner's Office, was trapped under the co-pilot with his head leaning against the side of the window, according to witness reports. The co-pilot, Stephen George Fox, died later at the hospital, according to the Coroner's Office.
Neither had the proper credentials to operate the Falcon 50, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
The first-responders were delighted with the recognition and happy to see Wilhelm and Rose, too.
"It was a chaotic scene when we arrived (at the crash site) . . . probably one of the worst I've ever seen," said Jay Krause of the Greenville City Fire Department. "This was the best outcome we could have had."
Fellow city firefighter Ricky Williams said first-responders rarely get to see the people they save, so being able to meet Wilhelm and Rose was healing for several of the crew who struggled with the call.
"The first time we met, it wasn't a good day," he said. "Today is a victory. This is a good step for them."
In addition to the breakfast, the first-responders and their families were also given season's passes to United Community Bank's Ice on Main.
Wilhelm said she suffered many broken bones as well as tissue damage to her knee, ankle and back.
"I'm working on it every day. I can't run . . . but I can walk," she said. "It was a big wake up call to what's important and what's not. Traffic is not important or a fight over who left the toilet seat up is not important. But people are important. And love is important. And family is important. And forgiveness is important. And gratitude is important. And that's about it."
Rose said he is in awe of the first-responders.
"The thing that blows me away is that first-responders, they show up at these horrific scenes, and do everything to save these people's lives, and when they get them in an ambulance, it pretty much ends for them," he said. "That's why we're doing this. It's a kind of a 'thank you.'"
And Wilhelm said the couple got help from everyone they met — from the people who dropped food off at the hospital to the ones who did her father's laundry.
"This is a great opportunity for us to . . . recognize the hospital and the first-responders, because I don't think they ever get to see the outcome of the people they save. We just expect them to be there when we need them," she said.
"We are overwhelmed with gratitude for the entire community and all you've done."
Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com