Beyond the imagination

2013-07-06 00:00

“YOU have two choices — to overcome, or give up. If you give up, you die.”

These are the inspiring words of a paraplegic from Rustenburg, who is learning how to fly his new specially converted Foxbat aircraft to attain his light sport aircraft licence.

Owen Sutton (39) was involved in an accident eight years ago in which he broke his back. He was in hospital for 18 days with nine broken ribs and punctured lungs, and spent six weeks in rehabilitation.

Chatting to Weekend Witness at the Light Flight Flying School in Cato Ridge yesterday, Sutton said an accident of this magnitude can leave a person feeling his entire life has been ripped away.

But there wasn’t much time to feel sorry for himself. Two weeks after he came out of rehabilitation his now eight-year-old son, Kyle, was born.

“I didn’t really have a choice. I had to raise him.”

Sutton said he was an active outdoors person –– with a pilot’s licence and flying microlights — before the accident. For years he thought his recreational flying had come to an end until he learned about the customised Foxbat aeroplane for people with disabilities, and bought one from the Ukraine.

He uses a hand control to control the rudder and throttle instead of using his feet on pedals.

“It’s a hell of an adjustment and for a disabled person to think they can fly an aircraft is beyond their imagination.”

But he was eager to make it happen.

“For years there was no chance for disabled people to fly. I thought my flying career was over, which was a depressing thought. I always wanted to get back to flying.”

He said there were tears in his eyes when he was airborne again for the first time in many years on Tuesday.

“I felt like a kid in a candy store with unlimited funds,” he laughed.

This nature conservationist, who owns the Mountain Sanctuary Park nature reserve in the Magaliesberg mountains, is planning to open a flying school for people with disabilities.

“I really want to empower disabled people and get people out of wheelchairs into aeroplanes,” he said.

“Once you’re up there you don’t feel disabled. You’re just another qualified pilot doing what other pilots do.”

He said his school is expected to take off in January next year and laughed as he said he was calling it Legless Eagles.

“You need to have a sense of humour in everything, like falling off the wheelchair or having a puncture in your wheelchair tyres,” he chuckled again.

His other goal is to change the perception that “able” people have towards those with “disabilities”.

“The only thing that doesn’t work are my legs, but my brain is as fast as it always was.”

Sutton’s wife, Stacy, said her husband is the most inspirational person she has ever met and always finds a way.

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