Friday, November 30, 2012

Cursed crash and burn victim weathers storm

Storm survivor:  Sixty-five-year-old Lincoln City-area resident Richard Specht.

Nearly 25,000 people were left without power last week when a wicked winter windstorm pounded the Oregon Coast. 

 Retired 65-year-old area resident Richard Specht was left without a house.

Specht's lifelong run of misfortune reached new heights on Monday, Nov. 19, when wind and hurricane gale-force gusts nearing 100 mph immobilized traffic, shut down businesses and snapped telephone poles throughout the state. The violent wind and rainstorm garnered national attention as it ushered in the start of the holiday season at the beginning of Thanksgiving week.

Having already survived an electrical explosion that devoured his face and hands; a helicopter crash that left him with a compressed disc in his spine; and a plane crash that, fortunately, resulted in mere embarrassment, it's little wonder Specht might have shrugged and asked himself "What's a little weather?"

Even after a towering pine tree crushed his motor home while he laid in bed sleeping.

"I heard some crashing and saw the ceiling moving, so I rolled off the bed and that's about how long it took," he said as a mammoth tree he estimated at 150 feet tall and 5 feet wide at the base sent him sprawling to safety,

"It landed right in the middle of my bed," he said. "I could have been dead. There's really no reason for me not to be dead."

The same might be said of three other potential catastrophes he escaped to tell about.

First was an electrical explosion in the late 1960s that resulted in skin grafts and reconstruction of his face and hands. Today, it's hard to tell unless you look close enough or when his hands won't tan.

After walking away from two aircraft crashes since, it might be understandable for the former pilot, truck driver and welder to shrug off the latest disaster.

"I was overdue, I guess," said Specht, whose last job before retirement was as a manufacturer of training ammunition in Salem.

Unlike the incidents of decades ago, Specht's recollection of last week's bout with Mother Nature remains fresh.

"When I got out, a fireman said he saw it coming down and he didn't know if anybody lived here, so he yelled," said Specht, who has resided for six years in the motor home near the old Blue Bird Fire Station on Highway 101 north of Lincoln City. "I don't remember hearing that. The only thing I remember hearing is the trees busting and cracking and crashing."

Alarmed, Specht said he rolled out of bed onto the floor. In keeping with his lifelong run of misfortune, the biggest tree landed on his house. The roof collapsed a split second later.

"I didn't have enough room to kneel, but I had enough room to sliver back out of the way, so I crawled through half an inch of coffee beans that had spilled. It was really a mess," he said. "It's really hard to orient yourself in something like that. You know this or that doesn't look right and you're kind of spacey for a minute."

After belly crawling backward to an area where he managed to dress himself while lying down, he found he couldn't open the door. About three minutes after his home was flattened, Specht — bloodied with a busted lip, bruised arm and sore back — opened a window and crawled out.

"It wasn't some place I wanted to hang around," he said. "It was kind of funny because they took me to the hospital and I was back so fast the state police were here and were concerned that somebody was still in the place. They were beside themselves trying to see if somebody was dead and then we drive up."

The feeling was nothing new to Specht, who considers his good fortune under the most trying of circumstances "pure, blind luck." Years ago, and not so fresh in his memory, he survived aircraft crashes in British Columbia in the same year — 1979 or 80, he said.

In one, mismanagement by the chopper's pilot caused the aircraft, a glass-bubble model similar to the one seen on M*A*S*H, to spin out of control and tumble to the ground.

"I went up with a guy who had enough money to buy a helicopter, but not enough brains to fly it," Specht said. "Gravity took over and down we went."

Months prior, Specht crash-landed a plane with an empty fuel tank caused by his own preflight procedural mistake.

"I got a disc compression out of the helicopter crash and I got an embarrassment out of the airplane crash," he said of the premature landing, which came just prior to the grand opening of one of Canada's most prestigious international air shows.

"We got the Blue Angels and all the civilians in the world flying in," he said, "and we're down at the end of the runway taking wings off a crashed plane in a raspberry patch,"

Of all his unfortunate mishaps, the electrical explosion, which was first, was the worst, he said.

"I was trying to reverse a three-phase motor on a 440-volt box and I didn't have the brains to do it the right way and it exploded," Specht said. "Burning is a horrible thing. It melted my face and hands off. But we got guys who have survived a whole lot worse than me in places called Vietnam. Korea, Somalia, Beirut. At least nobody's been shooting at me."

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