Sunday, January 29, 2012

Scott Walker survives a second air emergency

Scott Walker recounts his two airplane catastrophes after his physical therapy Thursday in Pascagoula.

OCEAN SPRINGS -- It’s happened again.

Scott Walker had a second brush with death, in September, in a small private plane while on business. This time there was no crash and everyone walked away.

But for a few excruciating minutes it brought back a world of fear and anxiety for Walker, 32, the globe-trotting business developer from Ocean Springs who was crippled in March when a small private plane he was in crashed on take-off from the Ocean Springs Airport.

That crash broke his back. He’s gone through surgeries and physical therapy to walk again.

In September, he was in the back seat of a twin-engine Beechcraft Baron when an engine blew. He said he couldn’t believe it was happening again.

After all, he was still in physical therapy from the March crash.

Flying over the Gulf of Mexico near Alabama, he said he braced himself and thought, “Please don’t let this hurt.”

Walker was returning from a business trip to Tampa, Fla., with developer Gentry Williams and D’Iberville’s Al Gombos. They were learning how to set up a company to handle laundry for health-care companies and hospitals on the Coast.

The Beechcraft, which seats four, had been over the Gulf for about 100 miles, he said, and was descending as it approached Gulf Shores, Ala., when “all of a sudden the right engine just snapped.”

There was a loud knock and oil sprayed over the right side of the airplane, Walker said. The engine had thrown a rod and punctured the case or block, releasing the oil.

“I could tell the propeller was not normal,” he said.

He said there was general panic among the passengers. One of them had not flown in a small plane before.

But the pilot, with 31 years of experience, kept calm. He still had one engine. He called for an emergency landing at the airport in Gulf Shores.

As they came in, people on the ground reported seeing the aircraft trailing thick black smoke, Walker said. Fire trucks and an ambulance were called in for the landing. Everyone watched.

“It really scared me,” Walker said.

He said thoughts and feeling from the March crash into an Ocean Springs neighborhood washed over him. “I cried like a baby.”

But Mark Isham, the pilot, landed the plane smoothly amid the ruckus. Walker said he’s grateful for an experienced pilot -- and a plane with two engines.

Blue skies on the horizon

He told the story this week from the lobby of the Singing River Healthplex in Pascagoula, where he still spends three days a week regaining his ability to walk. He uses a cane and leg braces that help his feet work properly, but the injury hasn’t slowed him down much.

After the March crash, he and three others teamed up to buy the Beechcraft, and he has traveled the Southeast in it. He said he flies a lot to recruit business for Mississippi.

He and Pascagoula Mayor Robbie Maxwell are economic-development consultants in a company with a number of clients.

Besides the new business, Mississippi Laundry Services, he’s working to get a Cracker Barrel restaurant and a Hilton Garden Inn at the Stennis Technical Park in Hancock County, looking forward to a June groundbreaking for an Eco Fields Petroleum plant that will recover used motor oil in east Jackson County and hoping to place a Newk’s restaurant where the LaFont Inn had been.

He’s part owner of a new Biloxi restaurant, The Columns, and half owner of the Ocean Springs Gazette.

And that’s not all.

He said he is now engaged to Trinity Ryals of Ocean Springs and they’re expecting a baby in early August.

“I’m 32 and having a baby,” he said. “God, I hope it doesn’t look like me. I’ve never had a child. My father is really excited. My parents are excited, but I tell you, my dad is more excited than anyone.”

His father is Bill Walker, head of the state Department of Marine Resources.

Scott Walker said what amazes him is “just the fact that I can still do business and start a family after all that’s happened in 2011.”

He said over and over 2012 will be a better year.

He’s looking at an early-summer wedding.

Different angle on politics

And what about his political career?

After years of working in Washington for former Sen. Trent Lott and the White House, Walker returned to the Coast. He fought an all-out battle to win the mayor’s seat in Ocean Springs several years ago, but lost.

He said people ask him about running again.

But he said he’s looking at a position in state government.

He said with Phil Bryant the new governor, “I really see myself working on statewide economic-development projects, legislative affairs and economic development.”

He said he has discussed positions with Bryant.

That would mean he would not run again for mayor of Ocean Springs.

In 2010, Walker made headlines when he was accused of assaulting a staffer in Sen. Roger Wicker’s Washington office, and then faced a DUI charge in Ocean Springs, but charges were dropped or dismissed.

Then came the plane crash in 2011 and his extended recovery.

“I’m still not out of the woods yet, but I’m feeling so much better,” he said. “I have one more surgery. We’ve been going to the University of Miami and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore exploring the options.”

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