Harrison County

When a military pilot ejected into water, a Gulfport native came to his rescue

Courtesy of Mack Ladner

A Gulfport native was in the right place at the right time — and with the right training — when he was able to help rescue a pilot who ejected over Hawaii waters during a military exercise.

It happened Wednesday off the coast of Honolulu.

Mack Ladner, a former Gulfport High School football kicker and Pearl River Community College soccer player, has been living in Hawaii for several years and working for a parasailing company started by an Ocean Springs native called X-treme Parasail & Jetski.

He’s a deckhand — working on his captain’s license — and makes about 10 trips a day, pulling customers harnessed to a parachute behind the boat so that they sail as high as 1,000 feet in the air.

On the 2 o’clock trip that day, Ladner said they were just heading out and he pointed to the jets flying overhead and customers started taking photos.

“One jet did this weird stall in the air, and then turned toward land, and then did a nose dive and pilot ejected out of the top,” he said.

They watched the pilot land less than a quarter mile away, and immediately headed over.

As the boat neared, they started calling out, asking if the pilot was OK and there was no response.

So Ladner jumped in and swam over.

Trained to untangle

“When I got into the water, I was asking him, are you OK? And he said yeah, my back hurts from the compression,” Ladner told Hawaii News Now. “He had a little bit of blood coming out, I think it might have been from the impact because he was going pretty fast.”

The parachute was tangled in the pilot’s gear, so he immediately began untangling him.

And luckily for 47-year-old Matt Pothier, Ladner is trained to do just that.

“He’s kind of lucky that it was our company, that was I’m trained” help, he said.

Pothier was able to describe where he was tangled, and Ladner was able to keep diving underwater to try to free him.

Ladner said his company’s parachutes are designed to be buoyant, but military chutes are heavier.

“They sink like rocks with all the gear and stuff they have on.”

“If you land unconscious in the water, you can be drowned in three or four minutes. ... It’s scary to think about.”

Soon after Ladner untangled Pothier, a Coast Guard boat arrived and he swam the pilot over to the boat.

Pothier was listed in serious condition Friday and had surgery Thursday to fuse two vertebrae in his back, his wife said on Facebook.

Ladner said Friday afternoon he was on his way to visit Pothier and his family at the hospital.

“I’m excited to do it, he was a cool guy. I don’t know how he was so calm in the water.”

‘Problems with his engine’

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said Pothier’s Hawker Hunter jet went down in the ocean around 2:25 p.m. after taking off from Honolulu’s airport.

He “had a problem with his engine during takeoff,” Carri Collins-Pothier said on Facebook.

The Hawker Hunter is a British jet developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, said the website of defense contractor BAE Systems.

He was rescued about 3 miles south of Oahu near Sand Island, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

The military exercise, called Sentry Aloha, was temporarily suspended and resumed Thursday morning. The Hawaii Air National Guard was hosting the exercise, which involved about 800 personnel and 30 aircraft from nine states.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, the military said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Lauren Walck has been in journalism on the Gulf Coast for 10 years, and she’s the Sun Herald’s senior news editor and a regional growth specialist. She is a native of Mobile, Alabama, and an alumna of Louisiana State University.
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