Helicopter crash survivor meets hero

It has been 13 years since Bill Dunston made the call that launched the EMS response that saved Jonathan Godfrey’s life. And through a series of coincidences, it was on Jan. 10, 2018 that Godfrey met Dunston for the first time.

“I got to meet one of my heroes today,” Godfrey said. “I reserve that title for very few people.”

Jonathan Godfrey (left) stands with his hero Bill Dunston who made the decision to call EMS response the night of the crash. themaximpact.net Photo
Jonathan Godfrey (left) stands with his hero Bill Dunston who made the life-saving decision to call EMS response on the night of the crash, 13 years ago. themaximpact.net Photo
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Godfrey was a flight nurse on board LifeEvac 2, an Airbus EC135 helicopter, that crashed into the Potomac River south of Washington, D.C., 13 years ago. Pilot Joseph Schaffer and flight paramedic Nicole Kielar were killed in the accident. Godfrey was the only survivor.

Coincidentally, a meeting that Dunston was attending on Jan. 10 landed on the anniversary of the crash in National Harbor.

“My co-author and significant other, MJ Brickey, is the Washington, D.C., liaison for the National EMS Memorial Service, and I am on the board of directors,” said Godfrey. “By a series of coincidences, the National EMS Memorial Service ended up at National Harbor at the Gaylord National Hotel and Resort that looks over the where Joe, Nikki and I crashed.”

Godfrey said, by another series of coincidences, he found out that Dunston is the director of security for National Harbor.

“MJ Brickey arranged a surprise meeting with Dunston,” said Godfrey. “MJ introduced herself and said she wanted to talk about the National EMS Memorial Service, but said before she talked about the service she wanted to play a video for the room.”

She played the clip and soon after it started, Dunston realized he was on the newsreels that played before him. A look of confusion came over his face.

Shortly after the reel played, Godfrey asked Dunston a question.

“I asked him what he remembered from that night, and he still hadn’t connected the dots that I was the survivor.”

Godfrey had been waiting to ask that question for 13 years.

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“I saw the flashing light out in the middle of the river and I knew that wasn’t supposed to be there,” Dunston recounted. He said he had seen a helicopter flying — what seemed to be low — then as it passed he saw a spark as it seemed to disappear into the dark.

He said he thought nothing of it because of all of the aircraft that have to fly low in, out, and around so close to Reagan International Airport.

The flashing light Dunston saw was the only hope Godfrey felt he had left — his penlight.

“For 13 years I have been waiting for the moment to be in this room with you and ask you that question,” Godfrey said. “I was the one holding that little light you saw in the middle of the Potomac.”

The pair got to catch up after the meeting and are planning to work with each other on raising awareness and support for the National EMS Memorial Service.

Jonathan Godfrey co-wrote a book with MJ Brickey about the crash and its aftermath. The book is called Max Impact: A Story of Survival.

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