Raeford, N.C. — A Raeford woman credits her pilot and an unidentified woman rescuer for helping her survive a plane crash last week in Croatan Sound.
Joanna Redmon, 44, was flying along the North Carolina coast on Jan. 13 with family friend Greg Carlisle, a seasoned pilot who was trying to earn hours in the cockpit to maintain his certification. When thick fog rolled in, Carlisle tried to land at Dare County Regional Airport but came in short of the runway.
"He tried to get lift on the plane. He throttled up to try to get lift, (but) we were already too close to the water," Redmon told WRAL News Wednesday in her first extended comments on the crash. "I remember hitting the water. I remember water coming in and flooding very quickly, it being dark and I couldn't see."
She clambered out of the Piper Seneca and circled the sinking plane, looking for Carlisle. The 49-year-old Raleigh resident never made it out, and divers recovered his body from the wreckage the following day.
"I had to do something. I couldn’t sit there," Redmon said. "I didn’t know if anybody knew we were there. I didn’t know how long we were going to be there.”
So, she began swimming for shore, pausing occasionally to float on her back to rest. But the blanket of fog made getting her bearings difficult.
“I couldn’t see shore anymore. I didn’t know which way I was facing. I didn’t know if I was coming or going,” she said, adding that she even lost site of the U.S. Highway 64 bridge that connects Croatan Island to the mainland.
"I just felt so lost," she said. "In a situation like that, it just felt like forever. It felt like forever and a day.”
Redmon said she couldn't see out of her left eye and had blood running down her face from a head wound, but she was determined to forge through the frigid water.
"You have to make a decision – sink or swim," the retired Army veteran and mother of six said. "If you want to get help, you've got to sink or swim, and I just wasn’t ready to sink yet."
She ripped off her blouse because swimming in drenched clothes was sapping her energy.
"I remember losing my shirt and just lying on my back, and I prayed," she said. "I remember yelling for help, and I heard a lady yell back.
"I wasn’t sure if I really heard it. I didn’t know if it was real or I imagined it," she said. "I was just so glad to hear it.”
The woman would continue to call to her to make sure she was OK and to get a fix on her location in the fog.
The voice gave Redmon the strength to continue treading water until rescuers were able to pull her from the water and get her to Outer Banks Hospital for treatment. She said she never learned who the woman was.
"I’ve never felt so helpless in my life, and these people were there just to hold you up when you couldn’t hold yourself,” she said.
She said she also wouldn't have survived without Carlisle, who said she banked the plane just before it hit the water so he would receive the brunt of the impact.
"Greg was a considerate person in so many different ways," she said. “I hurt for (his) family. I hurt so bad for them.”
Redmon suffered no broken bones or internal injuries but remains sore and is using a walker. As she heals physically, she said she's still trying to comes to grips with why she survived the crash when her friend didn't.
"God and I are still talking about that, and he’ll let me know when he’s ready to let me know," she said.