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Project Sole Survivor Preview

Aside from writing, Bill loves to travel, explore new places, and take lots of photos to document it all.

I can’t remember exactly when I first learned about the project called Sole Survivor, most likely sometime in mid-2012, but the project has certainly captivated me since. Expected to be released sometime in 2013, Sole Survivor is a documentary film by independent filmmaker Ky Dickens that takes a look at the individuals who have been the lone survivor of a large commercial plane crash. In the history of aviation, this has only happened 14 times, where everyone on board has perished, except for one survivor.

The immediate reaction to these statistics is that these people certainly must be among the luckiest individuals on the planet. But that isn't necessarily the case. The psychological scars and guilt of being the only person to survive a horrific plane crash weigh heavily on these individuals. To this day only four of the lone survivors have been able to come forward to talk about their struggles in understanding why they were spared and what it all means. The film takes a look at the lives of these four individuals.


For some the guilt lingers, and the search for answers remains. Was I spared for some higher purpose? If so what is it? Why me and not someone else? They all share the same grief and feeling that although they were lucky to survive the accident, how do they now live their lives with this distinction? This dramatic documentary will take an in depth look at the lives of four individuals, and gives them a platform to be heard for the first time. For the remaining ten, the choice to remain silent only further proves that the emotional and psychological scars of such a life-changing event are difficult to come to terms with.

While they all understand that there is a certain amount of interest and fascination with their lives, some have been reluctant to talk about their experience out of respect for the families that lost loved ones. Many feel guilty talking openly about surviving when so many others perished. The four individuals who agreed to take part in the project are highlighted here.

George Lamson Jr.

Galaxy Airlines flight 203 was scheduled to fly from Reno, Nevada to Minneapolis, Minnesota on January 21, 1985. Shortly after takeoff the plane experienced extreme vibration and the pilots requested permission to turn the plane around and return to the airport. Not realizing the source of the problem, the pilots reduced the power to all four of the plane’s engines to see if they were causing the vibration. This reduced the planes speed and caused the plane to stall and crash before reaching the runway.


George Lamson Jr. was just seventeen at the time. Upon impact he was thrown clear of the airplane while still buckled to his seat. He was attended to by paramedics but was able to pretty much walk away from the crash. Two other passengers survived the initial crash but died shortly after from their injuries. In all, the crash killed 75 people including the entire crew. The only survivor was George Lamson Jr. who lost his father on the flight. George Lamson Sr. was one of the two other initial survivors who died days after the accident.

Today George Lamson ironically lives only a few blocks from the site of the accident in Reno, Nevada. He is one of the few members of the group of 14 who has sought to connect with the other survivors in an attempt to make sense of it all and to heal.


Cecelia Cichan

Northwest Airlines Flight 255 was taking off from Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on August 16, 1987, in route to Phoenix, Arizona and then on to John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. The flight crashed shortly after takeoff and killed 156 people, including two on the ground. The only survivor of the accident was a four-year old girl, Cecelia Cichan. Her mother, father, and six-year old brother were among the fatalities.

After recovering from her injuries, which were severe, she was raised by relatives in Birmingham, Alabama. She remained silent for years out of respect for the families that lost loved ones but decided to speak out for the first time in the documentary because the project was more about the group than just the individual.

Today, Cecelia is happily married and hopes to return to her private life after the documentary is released. She has kept in touch with the families of some of the victims and also with Lt. John Thiede, the firefighter who pulled her from the crash. Lt. Thiede met Cecelia for the first time since the crash on her wedding day.

Bahia Bakari

When Yemenia Flight 626 left Sana’s International Airport in Yemen for the Indian Ocean island of Comoros on June 30, 2009, 14 year-old Bahia Bakari knew only that she was headed for a summer vacation with her mother. Having departed from Paris with stops in Marseille and Yemen, Bahia and her mother were just minutes from landing in Comoros when the Airbus A310 plunged into the ocean nine miles from the coast of Grande Comore Island. The crash killed 152 of the 153 people on board the flight with Bahia Bakari being the sole-survivor.

Having little swimming experience and with no life jacket, Bakari clutched a piece of wreckage and hung on for dear life through the long cold night, alone in the Indian Ocean. It wasn't until over nine hours later that she was rescued from the floating wreckage of the airplane. Flown back to Paris for treatment of her injuries, Bakari was immediately labeled the miracle girl by the press. She recovered from her injuries and in 2010 released a French memoir detailing her account of the ordeal. She has since turned down an offer from Steven Spielberg to turn her book into a movie.

Bahia has the dubious distinction of being the survivor of the deadliest sole-survivor ocean airplane crash, and the second deadliest sole-survivor accident ever. In the summer of 2011, Bahia met another sole-survivor, George Lamson, who made the journey to France to meet with her.

Jim Polehinke

Of all 14 sole-survivors, the most compelling story certainly must be that of pilot Jim Polehinke. That’s right, Pilot Jim Polehinke. You see Jim was the co-pilot of Comair Flight 5191 that crashed in Lexington, Kentucky on August 27, 2006. Pulled from the wreckage with life threatening injuries, Jim was rushed to the hospital where he remained in a coma following surgery to amputate his left leg. Jim suffered brain damage in the crash and has no memory of the events leading up to the crash.

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When Jim awoke from his coma he was greeted with the crushing news of his leg. But even more devastating to Jim was the news that everyone else on the airplane; all 49 passengers and crew were killed in the crash. Living with this news for most people would be difficult at best. But when the National Transportation Safety Board released their findings that the crash was due to pilot error, and Jim was actually flying the plane at the time, one can certainly understand his emotional struggle to come to grips with his surviving this accident.

There are many other elements that led up to the tragic crash of Comair Flight 5191, and although the NTSB issued their findings concerning cockpit error, there were other findings in their report that could have prevented this crash. Key among these was the fact that Comair Flight 5191 was on the wrong runway, one that was too short for the airplane to takeoff. Why and how this went unnoticed are certainly valid questions and this ultimately was the reason for the accident.

I have to admit that since reading about project Sole-Survivor I've had a hard time not thinking about this every time I step aboard an airplane. Aircraft fly so fast and so high that it is hard to envision anyone surviving a serious crash, which all of these were. No one but the fourteen individuals who have been the sole-survivor of a crash could possibly know how it feels to live with this distinction.

The film was completed in September, 2012 and was released in 2013. The documentary was selected as the Indiewire’s project of the Month for September 2012, and filmmaker Ky Dickens was interviewed on the Today show in August 2012, where she discussed the project with NBC’s Janet Shamlian.

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© 2013 Bill De Giulio


Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 03, 2014:

Hi grand old lady. Thank you for stopping by. I have seen the documentary and it was very interesting. It's amazing what these people have lived through and continue to live with.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 02, 2014:

Although I read this too late, I will be looking up the documentary. It sounds like something worthy of watching and it should be very insightful in many ways as well.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on January 08, 2014:

For anyone interested, CNN is airing this documentary tomorrow night, January 9th, at 9pm EST. It promises to be a fascinating look into the lives of four of the "Sole Survivors".

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on November 22, 2013:

Hi Silva. No I have not heard of Austin hatch, I'll have to look him up. How amazing it that, to have survived two crashes, one lucky young man.

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on November 22, 2013:

Have you heard about Austin Hatch? He is a young man who has survived TWO plane crashes. His mother died in the first crash and his father in the second.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 28, 2013:

This is an amazing project. Not all of the 14 sole survivors participated in this project. Juliane Koepcke was indeed one of the 14 sole survivors that this film is about. It really is a fascinating story. Thanks for the visit. Have a great weekend.

Silva Hayes from Spicewood, Texas on September 28, 2013:

In 1971, Juliane Koepcke was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the jungle. It is a fascinating story.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 07, 2013:

Hi Availiasvision. Thanks for the visit and comments. Yeah, Bahia's story is unbelievable, what a miracle. Every time I get on a plane I think about this now. Thanks for the visit, have a great weekend.

Jennifer Arnett from California on June 06, 2013:

What a unique idea for a documentary film. What a freaky thing to be the only one alive. The one I really want to see is the story of Bahia Bakari. What a brave girl! Nine hours floating in plane wreckage, alone. What a crazy story.

I've always wondered if I had the will to survive a plane crash on an island or way out in the wild.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on May 05, 2013:

Hi FlourishAnyway. Yeah, I found this project very interesting. I too wonder how one processes this and moves on in life. I'm sure it's not easy. Perhaps sharing their story through this documentary will help. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Have a great day.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 05, 2013:

What an interesting hub. Would love to see the movie when it comes out later this year. I imagine that at least some of the survivors probably suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I can only fathom what they are going through trying to make sense of what happened, but I hope that with the proper help they can find a way to be strong and resilient. I'm sure it's hard to process that they've been given a gift of a second chance at life.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 24, 2013:

Hi Peggy. I really do find this subject interesting. I wonder if these people survived and were spared for some higher purpose or were they just lucky and sitting in the right seat? I suppose they wonder the same thing on a daily basis. Many thanks for visiting, the vote, share, etc....

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 24, 2013:

I hope that the sole survivors are drawing comfort from meeting others in that same situation. It is hard to truly imagine what their feelings must be like but good to know that some of them go on to lead normal lives although forever carrying those memories with them. This is an intriguing subject. Voted up, interesting and will share.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 23, 2013:

Hi Carol. I've had the same feeling since learning about the film. I don't know what it is that is drawing me to this but there is definitely something there. I think the public in general is curious about the story of these individuals. I can't wait to see the film also.

Thanks for the visit, vote, share. Have a great weekend.

Carol from Greenwood, B.C., Canada on March 23, 2013:

Hi Bill. This is a very interesting article. I find I'm drawn to it but I really don't know why. I'd like to see the film too.

Thanks for introducing me to the subject.

Voted up and shared.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 23, 2013:

Hi Mary. I'm not sure what to expect from the film. It might be very sad but also a great opportunity for these individuals to express what they go through on a daily basis in dealing with this. My first reaction was what joy and how lucky to survive a plane crash but when you consider the emotional burden that it brings maybe they are not so lucky? I will definitely watch the documentary when it is released and will report back . Many thanks, have a great weekend.

Mary Craig from New York on March 23, 2013:

What an interesting subject. We hear of plane crashes and a sole survivor then go about our lives not thinking of what that sole survivor has to live with. Your videos adds a depth to this wonderful hub. I don't know if I can watch this documentary or not, I'm afraid I'll cry through it!

Voted up, useful, and interesting. Shared too!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 23, 2013:

Hi Alicia. Thanks for stopping by. The documentary should be released sometime in 2013, should be pretty interesting. It certainly should make anyone who flies pause and think. Have a great weekend.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 22, 2013:

This sounds like it's going to be a very interesting and compelling movie, Bill. It's hard to imagine what it would feel like to be the only survivor of a major plane crash. Thanks for the information. I'll watch for the movie's appearance.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 22, 2013:

Hi Bill. I also found this story fascinating and look forward to seeing the documentary when it is released. I am very curious to hear how these individuals live with this, I'm sure not a day goes by that they don't think about what happened to them.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on March 22, 2013:


As a former flight attendant, and wife of an avid traveler... I have to say I am amazed by your compelling article, your choice of writing this article and the writing in and of it's self is compelling. These stories drew me in... wanting to hear more of the survivors stories and wanting to know what is being done to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future. It also makes you think about life and how precious it is, you never know when or where it will be our last moment, here on earth. This article leaves me inspired to live the best life, I possibly can, going forward and I hope it will inspire others to do the same. Thank you for posting this article and for your love of travel!!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 21, 2013:

That was really fascinating, Bill! What an incredible shock that must be to survive and know you were the only one who did...I can see where guilt would lay heavy upon someone like that. Thanks for a very interesting hub.

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