Larry Hicks: ‘I’m no hero’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 21, 2002

Features Editor

Don’t call Larry Hicks a hero.

He doesn’t like that term.

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He would rather be called a husband, a father and a grandfather.

However, like it or not, Larry Hicks is being called a hero and like it or not, Larry Hicks is a hero.

Perhaps, he acquired hero status by being Johnny-on-the-spot or, perhaps, it was by design.

Was it "beyond chance" that he happened to be standing on his porch when a plane went down in the lake at his backdoor? Was it "beyond chance" that Hicks is a former Marine Corps master sergeant trained in rescue operations and that he had boat at his immediate disposal?

The plane, piloted by NASCAR car owner Jack Roush, could not have gone down in a better place or at a better time than at 6 p.m. Friday at Palos Verde subdivision.

Hicks and his wife were standing on their porch when they saw an aircraft flying low over the lake. Then, unbelievably the plane turned upside down and then went straight down into the lake.

Hicks immediately ran to his aluminum boat and raced toward the downed aircraft as his wife ran to call 911.

Hicks said he was not thinking at the time. He was just reacting to an emergency situation – an area

in which he was trained as a Marine.

"When a plane goes down, you know there is somebody inside," Hicks said. "I knew I had to get whoever was inside that plane out and out in a hurry."

The water at the point of impact was about eight feet deep and the cockpit was on the bottom.

Hicks was diving into blackwater so the visibility was near zero.

"I dived the first time and couldn’t find anyone," he said. "The second time I went down, I felt him but couldn’t pull him out because I was out of air. The third time, I found the quick-release button on the seat, hit it and pulled him out."

Because of his training in search and rescue, Hicks knew there was a release button on the seat and where it would be located.

"When I got him out, he wasn’t breathing," Hicks said. "I held on to him and braced on the wing and started CPR. On the fifth breath, he started breathing."

By this time, which Hicks estimated was within 10 minutes, the Troy Police Department and several EMTs were on the scene.

"We put him on a backboard and swam him to where we could touch bottom," Hicks said.

Once on the shore, Hicks, who was covered in aviation fluid, was immediately washed down by officers and paramedics and hurried into an ambulance. He and Roush were both transported to Edge Regional Medical Center by Haynes Ambulance Service.

Hicks was treated for burns from the fluid and released. Roush was later airlifted to a hospital in Birmingham where he was listed in critical condition.

"I didn’t know how bad his injuries were," Hicks said. "I knew he had a compound fracture of the left leg. I saw that. I understand he had head trauma and was in critical condition.

But, I’ve heard today that he woke up about 5:30 this morning and is ready to get out and do things. That’s the best news I’ve heard lately."

Friday was Roush’s 60th birthday and the best present he got was the presence of a trained rescuer on shore when his plane went down.

Hicks admitted he didn’t know how to handle all of the attention the rescue has director toward him.

The constant ringing of the telephone with requests for interviews, the persistent knocking at the door and the flashing of cameras in his face were handled graciously and with humility.

"I’m not a hero," he said. "I was just in a position to help a guy out. I don’t care about publicity. All I want is to know that he is going to be alright. I’m not a hero. I don’t even think in those terms. I’m a husband, a father and a grandfather. That’s all."

Hicks can think what he wants, but he can’t control what others think.

And, around Troy, Pike County and all around the country, people think he’s a hero.

And there’s little he can do about that.

All Hicks wanted do was make sure a guy he didn’t even know had a chance. That’s the stuff heroes of made of.