Life Star pilot continues to fly helicopter after 28 years - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Life Star pilot continues to fly medical helicopter after 28 years


A Connecticut veteran is in the business of saving lives. Chances are, you've seen him on the job, many times, but that's only part of his amazing story.

Senior pilot, Richard Magner of Glastonbury said he is at home when he is flying the Life Star medical helicopter around Connecticut.

Magner flew the very first life star flight from Hartford Hospital 28 years ago and at the age of 67, he's still going strong. 

"It's certainly something I enjoy a great deal after all these years," Magner said.

Over the years, Magner has seen his share of heartbreaking calls. However he's learned to focus on the miracles and the lives that were saved.

"Quite often, as we are en route, I can tell what they are doing for the patient .... that the patient is getting better," Magner said.

And there's no better feeling for a pilot, who was himself once a patient fighting for his life.

Magner said he was once a patient like many of his patients in the medical helicopter. In 1969,  Magner, 22, was warrant officer in Vietnam. He was a pilot and one of the Smiling Tigers of Delta Company, 229th First Cavalry Division.

Magner's machine was the cobra, which is a sleek and menacing assault helicopter, and his mission was protecting the hueys that carried the troops.

"Sometimes we had up to 18 Hueys and they would land and would load up the troops," Magner said. "And then we would then escort them out of their landing area."

On March 8, 1969, Magner was flying lead and sitting in the front seat of the Cobra helicopter while responding to a report of troops under heavy fire. When a single 50 caliber round Hit his cobra.

"When initially I got hit, I thought I just had this sort of tumbling sensation and then just a maze of red color," Magner said. And I figured, well you're on your way to where we're gonna go. But then, less than a minute passed and my vision cleared and I could still see the aircraft .. all the instruments looked good. We were still flying.  The strike didn't hurt us structurally, at all, but it took my jaw off.

Magner said he was bleeding to death and struggling to breathe. He was rushed to surgery where doctors saved his life. After beating the odds, Magner will spend his recovery at Fiztsimmons Army Medical Center Near Denver. 

"I can remember he was sitting out on a porch in San Diego in the sun and I was thinking, well it looks like I'm going to have a lot of opportunity to sit on a porch and take in some sun," Magner said.

That opportunity lasted five long years. During his time at Fitzsimmons, Magner underwent more than 20 grueling surgeries all with the goal of attaching a bone graft to create a lower jaw. After a number of failed attempts, Magner decided it was time to move on.

"I'd had enough," Magner said. "So I never got the bone graft."

Rebuilding his life proved to be easier for Magner and in 1974, he married Donna, who was a nurse he met in Denver. Magner returned to flying helicopters and working off shore in the Gulf of Mexico and in Florida. 

In 1985, he came to Hartford to help launch Life Star medical helicopter. 

After all these years, Magner said he can still fit into his United States Army flight shirt. His face may be different now. For this proud veteran, he said the scars are a humbling reminder of just how lucky he was.

"I might not be able to bite into a Big Mac, but that's small potatoes," Magner said and went on to say. "I feel fortunate that it worked out that way. I hope I haven't let it go to waste." 

Magner also said he hopes he can be an example of the countless Vietnam veterans, who came back from the war, to lead productive fulfilling lives.

"I think the success stories out there with Vietnam Veterans is I think an untold story," Magner said. 

For the young wounded veterans of today coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with Purple Hearts, Magner offered advice. 

"There is a future," Magner said. As difficult as it may be with limited means. We can still make it a worthwhile future."

For all he's been through, Magner has no regrets.

"I wouldn't have the great life I have today," Magner said. "I would have never met my wife. I wouldn't have my children and the grandchildren that I have. So I can't imagine if I had taken a different route. How much better my life could have been?"

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