Pilot opens up about crash to help others

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - It can be difficult to talk about mistakes, but Matt Mrzena opened up about one of his at the Alaska Aviators Forum Thursday.

Mrzena is an FAA inspector, pilot, and Air Force veteran.

A few years ago in Fairbanks, Mrzena attempted to land his plane on the water when the nose of the float dipped too low.

“The aircraft started a somersault,” Mrzena said at the forum. “I remember thinking to myself, this couldn't be happening."

His life savings were in his Cessna 206, which was now upside down in Minot Lakes. Water was rushing in.

He made it out of a window to the top of his plane with nothing but the clothes he was wearing while he piloted in, which were jeans and a cotton T-shirt.

All of his survival items were in the back of the plane, but the water was murky and cold. He didn’t want to risk a dive inside. Mrzena said his situation hopes serves as a reminder to those flying that the only thing guaranteed to be with you when a plane goes down is whatever you are wearing at the time.

"I saw several airplanes fly over me,” Mrzena recalled. “None saw me.”

Mrzena was there all night, shivering, cold, and even contemplating ending the misery before another pilot spotted him.

“This event was a turning point in my life because it taught me who I was,” Mrzena said. “I didn’t know if I was going to die.”

Mrzena said that sharing his story makes him vulnerable, but he does it in hopes of helping others.

The Alaska Aviators Forum meets every first Thursday at the Aviation Museum. Participants discuss issues, ask questions and share stories.

There were plenty of pilots in that room on Thursday. Mrzena hopes everyone there will be more prepared after hearing his recollection.

"People need to know it’s safe to fly," said Jason Hughes, a tech sergeant with the 212th Rescue Squadron, who also spoke at the forum. "The more prepared you are the safer you are. (Crashes) are more frequent in Alaska because of the amount of people flying every day."

James Kirsch, a 212th Rescue Squadron Pararescue Team Leader, stresses that pilots ensure emergency contact information is up to date and that pilots have all necessary gear.

"Always prepare for the worst, but hope for the best," Kirsch said.

“I was willing to put myself out there,” Mrzena said, “And shed a tear in front of a crowd if that's going to help even one person.”

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