Kirk Douglas' near-death experience in a 1991 helicopter crash "forever changed" his life in the almost three decades he spent on this earth before his death Wednesday at the age of 103. In his 2000 memoir Climbing the Mountain: My Search for Meaning, the Spartacus actor opened up about the Feb. 13, 1991 collision that killed two men and, which he then considered "the most important day of my life."
As a passenger piloted by his friend and voice actor Noel Blanc and co-piloted by Michael Carra, Douglas revealed he will "never forget" what happened when the helicopter collided mid-air with a Pitts aerobatic plane taxiing down the runway by Lee Manelski and student pilot David Tomlinson, as per PEOPLE. The crash killed both Manelski and Tomlinson.
"I'll never forget the date," he wrote. "In that horrible fraction of a second, the rotating blades of Noe's Bell Ranger helicopter sliced into the wing of David and Lee's Pitts, ripping it open and exposing its fuel to air. Carried by its fateful momentum, the little plane continued to rise forward into the blue sky. An instant later, the fuel caught fire. The Pitts exploded in a fireball."
"But we were alive in the tangled wreckage. David and Lee were dead in the smoldering remains. At that moment I was unconscious," Douglas continued. "I didn't know that from this day forward I would be asking: Why did they die? Why was I alive?"
Douglas admitted he had no recollection of what happened from there, but awoke in the hospital.
"Often, when I am asked about the accident today, people want to know what I experienced at the moment. Did I see a long tunnel with a blazing white light at the other end? Sorry, I saw and heard nothing. If it was there, I missed the show," he wrote. "I have no remembrance of being pulled from the wreckage, put in an ambulance and brought to the emergency room. I have no recollection of X-rays, CAT scans and the doctors' examinations."
"It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103," he wrote in the statement. "To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to."
"But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband," he continued. "Kirk's life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet."
"Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true," he ended the emotional tribute. "Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son."
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