Clear skies ahead: Job with FAA latest comeback step since losing sight in plane crash
By Kathy Chaffin
KANNAPOLIS ó It has been almost nine years since the Post ran a story about Barry Hulon Hyde’s brush with death in a plane crash.
It was a story of miraculous survival, the unwavering love of a family and tremendous faith.
Hyde, who lost his eyesight in the crash, was quoted in the Nov. 12, 2000, story as saying, “The good Lord’s got a purpose for me. …”
He was right.
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To recap what happened:
June 1, 1998: Twenty-six-year-old Barry Hyde was flying high ó literally.
A 1990 graduate of South Rowan High School, he had completed flight school at American Flyers in Addison, Texas, in January 1996 and was enjoying his job as an instructor for Lancaster Aviation at Concord Regional Airport.
Hyde had completed a morning flight and was flying to Roanoke, Va., in a Piper Twin Comanche as safety pilot for another pilot who was working on getting his instrument ratings current. Thirty minutes into the flight, the right engine failed, then the left.
Hyde’s left eye was ripped out on impact, and the damage to his right eye was severe. Doctors said the bones in his face were crushed, describing it as an “eggshell crushed in 10 million pieces,” according to his mother, Brenda.
Surgeons grafted tissue and bone and used 15 steel plates to rebuild his face.
February 1999: For the first time, Hyde was alert enough to become fully aware of what had happened. He wanted to die and talked openly about suicide.
His steady girlfriend, having stuck by him while he was in the hospital and rehabilitation center, had broken up with him months before, saying “she couldn’t handle it anymore.”
July 1999: Hyde underwent another surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, during which a plate was put in to lift his nose from his face and several screws from the previous surgery were removed.
August 1999: He enrolled at the N.C. School for the Blind, living on campus while learning to get around, read Braille and work on the computer using software designed for the blind.
Dec. 30, 1999: Hyde’s father, Barry Edward Hyde, died suddenly at age 55 after four surgeries following a massive heart attack.
April 2000: Hyde interviewed as a candidate for the Southeastern Guide Dog School program in Palmetto, Fla.
June 6, 2000: He took an aviation test and became the first and only blind advanced ground instructor.
June 12, 2000: Hyde was matched with a 19-month-old, black Labrador retriever named Lincoln.
The dog became his constant companion, helping to heal him emotionally and regain his freedom.
October 2000: He earned his aviation license to become an instrument ground instructor.
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About a month after the story ran, Hyde met Kendra, a blind woman who was taking classes at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and they began dating.
In May of 2001, Hyde was accepted at UNC-Charlotte, and he and Lincoln moved to a nearby apartment. “We walked back and forth to class,” he says, “1,800 steps one way.”
Life as a blind student was challenging, but Hyde recorded the lectures on a tape recorder and played them back at home, using another tape recorder to make verbal notes.
He took his tests at the university’s Disability Services Office on a computer with JAWS (Job Access With Speech) software, allowing him to take them verbally.
The N.C. Division of Blind Services paid Hyde’s tuition and assisted with his expenses and rent.
He graduated in December of 2004 with a 3.45 grade-point average.
Lincoln led him across the stage to accept his diploma at commencement services, and the audience honored them with a standing ovation.
“It was really awesome to be recognized like that,” Hyde says.
The following May, he underwent another surgery on his face, during which surgeons removed several metal plates and screws and took bone from his cranium to rebuild his face and nose.
In July 2005, Hyde moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., and began working on his master’s degree in aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest flight school.
He received financial assistance from the Florida Services for the Blind, a $12,000 scholarship from the university and several other scholarships, including two from the Greater Miami Aviation Association’s Batchelor Aviation Scholarship Fund and two from the Air Traffic Control Association.
He had only been there four months when Kendra died suddenly from complications of diabetes. “It was a heartbreaker,” he says. “Lincoln and I came home for her funeral service.”
When Hyde returned home to Kannapolis a month later for the holidays, he and his cousin took Kendra’s ashes up in an airplane, releasing them over both their homes.
The following year, Hyde’s friendship with Nancy Riedel developed into a romance. They had gotten to know each other when he spoke at fundraisers for the Carolina Outreach Program of Southeastern Guide Dog Inc., of which she was director.
When the Concord outreach program closed a few months later, she and her Labrador retriever, Jackson, a retired guide dog, moved to Daytona Beach to be with Hyde and Lincoln. Soon afterward, Riedel, who Hyde calls “Nance,” got a job with Embry-Riddle.
Hyde remained dedicated to his studies, graduating on May 7, 2007 with a 4.0 grade-point average with distinction.
“I had lots of family and friends there for the commencement,” he says.
“Lincoln was hooded when I got hooded.”
And when Hyde and Lincoln walked across the stage at commencement services, they received another standing ovation. “I was the first blind graduate in Embry-Riddle’s 84-year history,” he says.
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On June 1 of that year, Hyde began working on his doctorate online from Northcentral University in Prescott, Ariz.
“It was almost like it was God’s plan that I started on the nine-year anniversary of the plane crash,” he says. “That was the driving force for me to prove that I could continue on.”
Hyde received two more scholarships from the Greater Miami Aviation Association and Air Traffic Control Association. He has received 25 scholarships in all, continuing work on his doctorate with a 2011 completion date for his dissertation.
Last Dec. 3, Hyde’s faithful guide dog, Lincoln, was retired to the status of beloved pet. On Jan. 20 of this year, Jet, another black Lab, took over as his guide dog.
“Jet is a city dog,” he says. “He grew up in Albany, N.Y.”
Hyde says there’s never a dull moment for him and Riedel with their three dogs, each one valued at $60,000.
While continuing to work on his doctorate this spring, Hyde taught an online aviation class for Daniel Webster College in New Hampshire.
The topic of his dissertation: “The Proper Execution of the Preflight Checklist to Ensure Flight Safety.”
Hyde says the pilot’s failure to properly execute the preflight checklist was the cause of his June 1, 1998, crash. He is working on a book about the crash and his struggle to remain in aviation as a blind man. It will be titled, “Seeing New Horizons: How Blind Aviator Barry Hulon Hyde Views Aviation Safety.”
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In early October, Hyde flew with Riedel, Lincoln and Jet to Washington, D.C., where he received his fourth scholarship from the Air Traffic Control Association on Oct. 7. The next day, Hyde interviewed for an aviation safety analyst position with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
The interview was held on the eighth floor of the FAA’s Flight Standards District Office in downtown Washington, he says, and lasted two hours. Later that afternoon, the deputy director of communications for the FAA did a live interview with Hyde and Jet for its Web site.
The next day, Hyde met FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt at a Combined Federal Campaign Kickoff that encouraged employees to donate money to nonprofits. Speaking in front of an audience of more than 150, Hyde told them about his plane crash and how he had benefited from various nonprofit organizations for the blind.
As part of the event, Hyde presented Babbitt with an alumni pin from Embry-Riddle, his alma mater, and Babbitt returned the favor with a limited edition book on the history of the FAA.
Hyde, who contacted the Post when he arrived in Kannapolis last week to spend Christmas with his mother, says he was offered the job on Dec. 3 ó Lincoln’s 11th birthday. “Once again, I think that’s God’s way of showing how He’s continuing to make things very memorable for me,” he says.
Part of his duties when he begins work on March 1 will be developing policies and procedures for general aviation and flight school.
“This is just a huge honor,” Hyde says. “This is what I’ve worked so hard for for the past 10 years. It’s like a dream come true.
“It shows me that God has a purpose for me and that He’s making it known with each door that opens up.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.