Bills star, pilot tell different stories about crash

Posted: Friday, June 02, 2000

ANCHORAGE -- Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly says he is lucky to be alive after a plane he was in went down in the Bering Sea recently, 100 yards off the Alaska Peninsula.

``I had to swim to shore, but thank God, I'm still here,'' he told Buffalo's WGRZ-TV on Wednesday.

But the pilot's version of the incident isn't nearly so dramatic, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

``He said he landed in the tidal zone, in 6 inches of water,'' said Jim LaBelle, NTSB's chief in Alaska.

LaBelle said it appears the May 20 incident does not meet the NTSB's threshold for an investigation because there was no serious injury and the plane, a Super Cub on wheels, sustained little damage.

The pilot, Jerry Jacques, 49, told the NTSB that the plane lost engine power shortly after departing the beach at Cold Bay, where Kelly and his brother Pat were hunting bears. Jacques said he put the plane down in the tidal zone, damaging the propeller, according to LaBelle.

Kelly was attending the funeral Thursday of a former teammate's father. LaBelle said he hopes to talk to the former Bills star.

News of the accident surfaced after the Kellys returned from their two-week vacation, which Jim Kelly bought at a charity auction. He described the incident in some detail to Ed Kilgore, sports director of the Buffalo NBC affiliate.

``We lost total power of the plane, and the pilot turned and said, `Jim, brace yourself. We're going down,' '' Kelly said in the on-camera interview. ``I had some choice words and pretty much saw everything flash in front of me.''

The pilot, he said, tried to skip the plane along the water but it nosed in.

``I had to hurry and undo my seat belt and take off my helmet and knock out the windows, which the pilot did,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said he suffered minor cuts to his face and had a nail torn off his finger. According to Kelly, the engine trouble was blamed on water in the fuel.

His brother said that he and a guide were about three-quarters of a mile away. By the time they got to the shore, Kelly and the pilot were making their way out of the water, he said.

``It was scary out there,'' Pat Kelly said. ``But he's fine. That's all that counts. We were fortunate.''

Kilgore said he didn't believe Jim Kelly described the incident as a ``crash.''

``It was probably more of a forced landing,'' Kilgore said. But, he said, Kelly did tell him the plane was in more than a few inches of water.

``He said when he first got out, the water was over his head,'' Kilgore said. The 6-foot, 3-inch Kelly said he could soon touch the bottom and walk out.

Kilgore said Kelly told him about the plane incident when he was visiting the station to record a promo. At first, he thought Kelly was pulling his leg about it and about the bear he said he shot. But then Kelly showed him pictures of the bear.

``Jim has never been one to fabricate a story, but who knows?'' said the sports director, who for years hosted ``Bills Sneak Preview With Jim Kelly,'' a weekly halfhour football talk show. ``The pilot, it might be the kind of thing he didn't want to report.''

Kilgore said he did not know how the men ultimately left the beach or what became of the plane.

LaBelle, of the NTSB, said the plane was eventually flown to Talkeetna. An FAA inspector checked it out there Thursday and said it was fine except for some damage to the propeller. LaBelle figured the plane was either operable right away, or the pilot may have pounded it straight in the field.

Jacques, who operates Jacques Adventure Co. in Talkeetna, was traveling and could not be reached by telephone, his secretary said.

The FAA plans to take no further action on the incident.

``No damage, no injuries,'' FAA spokeswoman Kirsti Dunn said. ``It's sort of a nonreportable incident.''

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