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Story Archives: Local pharmacist wows Lions Club with heroic tale
|Local pharmacist wows Lions Club with heroic tale|
Archibald pharmacist Doug White will forever remember Easter of 2009.
It was the day he saved his family's life.
White and his wife were returning from southwestern Florida with their two teenaged daughters aboard a King Air 200, which White owns.
The family had traveled to Florida for the funeral of White's brother and had decided to hitch a ride on his plane, which was returning from Augusta, Ga. and the Masters Tournament.
White recounted that fateful morning to the Winnsboro Lions Club Tuesday at a luncheon Tuesday.
Friends and family had gathered at the Naples, Fla. airport to see the Whites off.
"My mom's only remaining child and only two grandkids were on that plane," White said.
At the controls, retired Air Force Colonel Joe Cabuk guided the plane into the clear, south Florida skies.
"We were off the ground four minutes, maybe five at the max," recalled White.
That's when disaster struck. During a call to air traffic control, Cabuk "ran out of air," White said.
White turned to see what was the matter with his co-pilot.
"Mr. Joe's chin was on his chest," White said.
Cabuk had apparently suffered a major heart attack and was unconscious. The retired fighter pilot was sitting, strapped into his seat, with his hands on his lap.
"That's when I knew we were in trouble," White said.
The Easter trip marked only the second time White had been up in the King Air 200.
Though he owned the plane, he describes it as an investment that is leased out through Monroe Air Center at the Monroe Regional Airport.
Luckily, on the one previous flight White had made on the plane, a pilot had showed him how to engage the radio.
He called into the Miami Center and declared an emergency.
"When you declare an emergency to air traffic control, you immediately go to the front of the line," White said.
That priority would important in the coming hour, as it fell to White to figure out how to land the twin-engine turbo prop plane safely.
Though a licensed pilot, White had never flown a multi-engine aircraft. Also, he was not rated to fly by instrumentation. Instead, he was used to depending on his eyes to tell him where he was.
There was also another immediate problem: the King Air 200 was climbing at a rate of 2,000 feet per minute.
"Every two and a half minutes, we were a mile higher," White said.
White immediately recognized the danger of the situation. Either the plane would climb too high and stall out, at which point it would crash, or the cabin would not maintain enough oxygen to support its passengers.
Either way, White knew he had to stop the plane's ascent.
With the help of an air traffic controller, White successfully disengaged the auto-pilot and leveled the plane out at 17,500 feet.
"Three and a half miles is where I finally got control of it," White said.
The next problem White had to tackle was how to land the plane.
Another air traffic controller monitoring the situation recalled a buddy who once flew King Air 200s. Though Dan Favio had worked in air traffic control for only two months, he proved instrumental in bringing the plane in safely.
Favio had a friend in Connecticut who had once flown King Air 200s.
Controllers would relay questions to Favio, who would in turn feed them to Kari Sorensen, reached via cell phone at a family gathering in Connecticut.
By working together, White said the controllers were able to help him bring the plane into a safe landing at the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.
They had been in the air four minutes when the saga began.
"We got her down 45 minutes later," White said.
Though paramedics attempted to resuscitate Cabuk for almost half an hour, the 67-year-old Air Force veteran was pronounced dead.
Since Easter, White has made several appearances to recount the events of that day.
At the Lions Club on Tuesday, Lamar Johnson summed up the events.
"America loves her heroes," Johnson said. "We have seated in this room one of our very own."
White dismissed the talk of heroics and said he was not a hero. Yet, without his quick actions and the help of numerous individuals, White said the story could have ended much more tragically.
White's story appeared in the October edition of Reader's Digest.