‘I’m So Grateful to Be Alive’

By United Way of King County, on May 2, 2023 | In Fighting Homelessness, News

The official report of the January 2 plane crash at Provo Municipal Airport in Utah said the aircraft ascended about 30 feet, nosedived moments later and, upon impact, left a scrape mark of wreckage that extended more than 30 yards. The impact of the crash killed pilot and businessman Nathan Ricks. The person seated next to Ricks, United Way of King County board member Brent Beardall, miraculously survived.

Yet neither the National Transportation Safety Board report nor published articles of the account nor the YouTube videos featuring photos of the wreckage could convey the aftermath—for the families of the pilot who perished, to the two passengers seated in back rows that were left with non-life-threatening injuries, to Beardall, the WaFd Bank CEO who continues a steady recovery from broken bones and lacerations.

Beardall, who has already taken more than a dozen flights since January 2, chatted with United Way about that fateful day and the aftermath—including the outpouring of support that has bolstered his recovery.

United Way of King County: How are you, health-wise?

Brent Beardall: My friend, I am so grateful to be alive, I can’t even tell you. It is a surreal feeling to know that per the laws of physics I shouldn’t be alive, and yet I am. It is also a little bit crazy to know that the gentleman that was sitting three feet to my left passed on impact and I was able to survive somehow.

You go through all kinds of emotions, from survivor’s guilt to just being ecstatic that you’re alive. It’s a roller coaster; whether I’m able to get back to 100 percent of what I was is to be determined, but if I can get back to 80 or 90 percent over the next year, I’ll be thrilled.

United Way of King County: Reports of the tragedy said you had broken bones and lacerations.

Brent Beardall: That’s a nice way to put it. The surgeon told my wife that he had never seen such a mangled body survive. The healing has been a huge blessing. [May 2] will be four months [from the tragedy], so it’s shocking that I’m out and about, back on the road and back doing things. I’m so grateful for the love and support.

And that’s the big message that I want to come across. So often we focus on the differences and differences are real, and I’m not saying that we should brush our differences under the rug. Let’s embrace our differences, like diversity—that’s a wonderful thing. But let’s also focus on what we have in common, and that’s humanity and caring for one another.

Brent Beardall (continued): I’ve been incredibly humbled and blown away just by the love and support from people I knew very, very well, by people I knew superficially and some people I didn’t know at all. There are entire church congregations who have come together to fast and pray for my benefit. There is so much good in the world that we don’t talk about very often.

United Way of King County: What was it like the first time you flew again?

Brent Beardall: My friend, I didn’t think it would be a big deal at all. I’m one of those people who say that hey, when you get thrown off a horse you get back on the horse. You can’t live your life in fear. But I was wrong. It was not as easy as getting back on the horse. I’ve been on 15-20 flights since then, and the first couple were tough. As soon as you hit turbulence, which inevitably happens, PTSD sets in, and it’s such a helpless feeling, because there’s nothing you can do but pray, right?

United Way of King County:  How is your mobility now?

Let’s embrace our differences, like diversity—that’s a wonderful thing. But let’s also focus on what we have in common, and that’s humanity and caring for one another.

Brent Beardall

Brent Beardall: I can walk around. I’m much slower than before, but I can get around. It’s not pain free, but it’s doable. Whenever I get down on myself, I say, “Hold on a second. Consider the alternative.” And when the alternative is so real and so crushing, it provides a good perspective.

Provo, UT Municipal Airport, where the aircraft Brent Beardall was aboard, an Embraer EMB-505, crashed shortly after takeoff.

United Way of King County: What does being part of the United Way board mean to you?

Brent Beardall: I’ve been on the board for 5-7 years? It’s been a while. WaFd Bank has been affiliated with United Way for at least the last 30-35 years. We go way back. We think community at the bank, and we think United Way. That’s what it means to me: How can we effectively make a difference and give back, and we think United Way does that so much better than each individual trying to say, “What organizations am I going to affiliate with?” You partner with United Way and trust the leadership of United Way to say, “Hey, this is how we’re going to make your few dollars make a difference.”

United Way of King County: The King County that you served since you’ve been on the board: What have been some of the challenges you’ve seen and how do you believe United Way has addressed those concerns?

Brent Beardall and sons at a Mariners game

Brent Beardall: It’s kind of like trying to hold back the tide in some respects. I remember when United Way had the challenge to end homelessness, and then you look at where we are now with people experiencing homelessness and you say, “Did we make a difference?” And I say, “Just imagine where we would be without that.” What you see is the people who are still struggling. What you don’t see is the people where you’ve made a difference in their lives.

I believe that you can’t sit back and criticize unless you are proactive and trying to be part of the solution. United Way is on the front lines in trying to make a difference every day. Clearly, we have our challenges in King County, but you have to say, “What are the solutions, and how can I be part of the solution?”


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