By Alan Gionet
FRISCO, Colo. (CBS4)– After a record settlement in a helicopter crash that killed the pilot and nearly killed him, fight nurse Dave Repsher is ready to start anew.
“Well it’s such a beautiful place,” Dave said as he stood with CBS4’s Alan Gionet in the park built in memory of his late friend pilot Patrick Mahany.
“I mean we’re sitting here under the shadow of Peak One and Buffalo and you know it’s a reminder of why we’re here in the first place.”
Dave has always understood natural beauty. He was outdoors more than just about anyone before the July 2015 helicopter crash that nearly burned him to death and killed Mahany.
Getting back out is Dave’s daily goal.
“I really want to go rafting and get some skates on and play some hockey.”
“Move home is a big one. We want to move home so badly,” Dave and his wife Amanda agreed.
Medical needs make it a difficult goal in spite of a settlement in a lawsuit against the helicopter manufacturer and the aircraft owner that’s believed to be the highest pre-trial settlement in U.S. history at $100 million.
Dave’s medical care is far from over and will total in the tens of millions of dollars over his lifetime. His attorney, Murray Ogborn, maintains nothing makes up for Dave’s horrific journey.
“I don’t know what the next step is,” said Repsher. “We’ll see what my health and energy lets me do but I do look forward to the day of helping out again where I can.”
Known for rafting and hiking and skiing and playing hockey, Dave is not a guy who keeps still.
“I do miss work. I really enjoyed my job. It was something I worked my whole life for.”
Dave and fellow flight nurse Matt Bowe were on board that day along with pilot Patrick Mahany when the helicopter lifted off, but went hardly anywhere.
The helicopter rose turned and went down in a parking lot on the backside of the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco.
Dave was thrown out, still strapped in his seat. The after-market seat had been installed by Air Methods, the operator of the Airbus AS350B3e helicopter.
Bowe was able to climb out and his injuries were less severe. But Repsher ended up beneath a door that was also thrown off. Video of the crash shows fuel pouring out within seconds.
“It was like someone dumped a bucket of fluid right over my shoulders,” said Repsher. “A cold rush of fuel, or what I assumed was fuel just right over my shoulders and then there was fire. And I had to get out.”
He lifted the door on top of him to go, but he was already on fire.
Repsher sued over a variety of issues, including the seat and fuel tank construction.
“I felt like I was safe,” said Repsher.
Regulations allowed the helicopter to be built in 2013 to a design generated in 1977, even though the design was updated in 1994, adding a crash resistant fuel system.
“I’d like to see drastic safety improvements. There has to be a way to retrofit the fleet that’s out there currently. With a number of issues obviously the fuel tank is a prime concern – and adequate seating and restraints.”
Why it still remains possible to produce aircraft to older safety standards is frustrating to him.
“They’re still built off of regulations from you know, 1977. I don’t know of anything else out there in the world that are still allowed to have these loopholes.”
The FAA has already issued a directive in the wake of the crash requiring a warning be installed that would go off if a switch is not in the proper position to create critical hydraulic lift, which it stated was a factor in the crash.
The story of the incredible strength of Dave and Amanda and what happened to him in the crash are also coming out with the lawsuit over.
“I remember trying to get away and I remember I could feel the heat and the flames. I just, I really didn’t know where I was at.”
As people helped him, it was clear Dave was in severe danger of losing his life.
“I knew I was in trouble. You know the first thing I think I told the crew that got me was that I’d taken a couple deep breaths in… Anyone who knows about inhalation injuries if you take a good couple breaths of fire and smoke it makes it a whole lot worse.”
They would put Dave under for more than five months. A nurse inside the hospital had a few words for Amanda.
“He came up to me and he said to me, ‘Amanda, I know you don’t know me, but I was taking care of Dave and you need to know the last thing he said before we intubated him.’ He said, ‘Tell Amanda that I love her.’ And those words carried me through for many months.”
Dave nearly died time and time again in the hospital, but fought through.
They found so much love and help, they are constantly thankful. Both nurses before Dave’s crash, they had already dedicated their lives to helping others, but now it’s coming as they share Dave’s story.
“We were honestly pretty private people for the most part and this has kind of thrust us into a new world,” said Dave.
He’s become involved with the Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation that helped him. And this week he testified in favor of the Colorado Living Organ Donor Support Act along with Matt Martinez, who donated a kidney to help Dave after his kidneys were ruined by heavy antibiotics.
Dave, Amanda and Matt are now good friends and Dave even jokes, he wants to honor Matt by making his kidney proud.
There are still many medical issues ahead. Dave just completed surgery number 50 and still has some open wounds, but he pushes forward.
“I’m not angry. You know I’ve never been angry through this. I’m disappointed at what happened and the results of what happened.”
Dave and Amanda are trying to put words to their mission in life.
“In a way this may sound a little weird,” he told Alan, “but in a way this is a gift.”
He’ll be a part of the community giving back and emerging from injury beyond comprehension.
“It really makes you want to go out and be part of that movement and do what you can to help others in whatever way you can.”