'It Wasn't My Time': Teen Escapes Death Twice
Best Friends Survive Car Accident; Helicopter Rescue Leads to Catastrophe
By JEFFREY L. DIAMOND and DEBORAH ROBERTS
Feb. 27, 2009—
Jordan Wells, a college freshman from Waldorf, Md., was home for a weekend reunion in September when her life changed forever. She survived a car accident, only to be involved in a medevac helicopter crash on the way to the hospital that killed everyone else on board.
"I woke up in the woods and it was dark and it took a second to realize what happened," she told "20/20." "And I was just in a lot of pain and I was cold. And then I realized the helicopter had crashed. And I was all alone, not knowing if anyone was going to save me. I was definitely in pain, because I had bones sticking out everywhere."
"I was really scared," she said. "So I started yelling for help. I was thinking, 'am I going to die out here or is someone going to find me?'"
Jordan Wells and her best friend Ashley Younger were part of a tight-knit group of kids living in Waldorf. Jordan Wells, 18, was a swimmer and Ashley Younger, 17, was into dancing.
"Jordan was the one who always kept us together," her friend Joanna Potts said. "She was always making plans and always had an idea. Like every weekend she would always want to do something. [Jordan] was like the glue to our group."
And Ashley Younger, "she was really funny, easy to talk to," friend Kevin Holmes said. "I was always laughing with her ... never a dull moment. She was like a sister to me."
On Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008, Ashley Younger told her mother she was going to meet Jordan Wells at a carnival.
"And then she said they were going to the mall," Stephanie Younger said. "And from there, she called me. She said, 'Well ma, I think I'll be home in a little while.'"
Jordan Wells was behind the wheel of her car at 11 p.m., driving on slippery roads.
"I was driving and it was raining really, really hard that night," she said. "I don't remember how fast I was going, but I sure was saying to Ashley, I was like, 'I'm about to lose control.' And so before I knew it, it was going across the median and it was like bump, bump, bump, and we hit a tree."
Within minutes of the crash, police and ambulances arrived at the scene.
"As we came around the curve, we saw the accident," said Lou Ramer, an emergency medical technician who was one of the first to arrive. "We saw the cars on the opposite side of the road, the haze, the smoke. And I could hear a lot of yelling from the two female voices. There was a lot of hysterics there. They were yelling and screaming."
Bill Rudolph, another medical technician, began helping the two girls. Ashley Younger complained that her head and chest hurt but Jordan Wells, who was also in pain, seemed more worried about the damage to her father's car.
Helicopter Rescue Turns to Tragedy
Jordan Wells wanted to tell her parents about the crash but in the confusion, she lost her cell phone. Her parents, Scott and Lynn Wells, had no idea their daughter had been in a car accident.
"She wasn't home yet, so I started texting her and never got a response," Lynn Wells said. "I kept on trying until about 2 in the morning, never heard anything. So at that point, I just went to bed. "
Scott Wells said he thought his daughter was just out late.
"We knew who she was with," he said. "And so I wouldn't say we were overly concerned at that point."
Ashley Younger reached her mother on her cell phone.
"I said, 'oh Lord, are you OK?' And she said, 'My chest is hurting,'" Stephanie Younger said. "So we jumped in the car and the accident was maybe three, not even three, four minutes from my house. And that's when we saw Ashley and Jordan in the car."
Paramedics were trying to get the girls out of the car and determine the extent of their injuries. Stephanie Younger said a paramedic told her that they weren't sure how serious her daughter's injuries were and that the girls would be taken to the hospital in a medevac helicopter.
Paramedic Michael Lippy and medical technician Tanya Mallard frantically treated their injuries while trying to keep the girls calm. Pilot Stephen Bunker received weather information from air traffic control.
Just before liftoff, Stephanie Younger consoled her daughter one last time.
"She was just crying and I kissed her. She was just nervous, and I said, 'you're going to be fine, sweetie. We'll be there waiting on you,'" she said. "And she kind of calmed down."
At 11:45 p.m., the helicopter took off for the 25-mile flight to the emergency room at Prince George's County Hospital. But almost from the moment of liftoff, Bunker knew he was in trouble. It was raining much harder than he'd been told and there was a dense fog. Jordan Wells began to panic again.
"I remember taking off," she said. "I remember flying. I remember kind of looking out the window, seeing a building. I remember feeling the helicopter trying to land. But he said he couldn't land because it was raining too much. And he said, 'we're going to turn around and take you to southern Maryland.' And I think I remember us hitting the first tree and that's when my face hit the side of the helicopter. ... And that's when I blacked out."
The chopper, with the pilot, the medical technicians and the girls on board, crashed into the woods a few miles from Andrews Air Force Base. It smashed into thousands of pieces, the wreckage strewn through the forest. Jordan Wells woke up in the woods, cold, in pain and alone.
'We Prayed for Her'
At the hospital, Stephanie Younger was waiting for her daughter to arrive in the helicopter, but emergency personnel began to worry when it disappeared from radar.
Technician Rudolph said, "I kept saying little prayers, like it's going to be all right, it's going to be all right."
After midnight, dozens of rescue workers begin combing the thick woods surrounding Andrews Air Force Base. For two excruciating hours, Jordan Wells lay helplessly on the ground shivering, surrounded by debris, soaked in fuel.
"Did anyone else survive?" she said she asked herself as she drifted in and out of consciousness.
"I could hear someone looking for me, and they were running for me, and I like saw them come to me, and I just felt relief," she said. "Felt like God answered my prayer."
Jordan Wells was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where Stephanie Younger had just learned about the crash.
"We overheard someone say that the helicopter crashed," she said. "And the only person [who] came in was Jordan. And to hear it like that, it was, you know, it was still hard to believe [Ashley Younger] was gone."
At 4. a.m., the Wells received a phone call informing them of the accident.
"We went to the emergency room and I knew something different was up because the head doctor was right there, and he's saying things like, 'you know, your daughter was the sole survivor of a helicopter crash,'" Scott Wells said. Dirt and helicopter fragments were embedded deep into Jordan Wells' body. Her cheekbone, nose, eye socket and shoulder blade were broken, and five disks along her spine were dislodged. Her legs were completely shattered, a bloody mangle of muscle, bone and skin. "We just put our hands on her and prayed for her," Scott Wells said.
After several hours of surgery, Jordan Wells was transferred to the Baltimore Shock Trauma Center. For 10 days, doctors operated to put her back together. Heavily sedated, she was unaware of the desperate measures to save her legs.
When she woke up, the first thing she did was apologize to her father for crashing the car.
"And I'm like, I don't care about that car," Scott Wells said. "But it was just so good to hear her talk again."
The doctors fought to contain the infection in Jordan Wells' right leg, but it was a losing battle.
"I remember waking up in the morning in the hospital and seeing my pinkie toe was gone and then my next toe was gone," she said. "Every time I went into surgery they took a little piece off my foot. [And] my doctor told me how it was going to be if I kept it and it would be infected. And he told me the best thing to do is to amputate."
'It Wasn't My Time to Leave Yet'
As her sedatives wore off, she not only confronted the fate of her leg but she also began asking about her friend Ashley Younger.
"The same day they told me they had to get my leg amputated, was the same day my dad told me that Ashley had died," she said.
Jordan Wells was the only survivor of the helicopter crash, and two months and 20 operations after the crash, she left the trauma center.
When she finally came home, it was "fantastic" for her parents.
"Her friends arranged a reception for her," Scott Wells said. "They were sitting in front of the house with a banner, screaming and yelling and videotaping and just welcoming her home."
Now home, Jordan Wells requires around-the-clock care. A parade of visitors and friends are always around, lending a hand ... and a laugh. But her recovery has been slow and painful; she is almost totally dependent on her parents.
"I think it's pretty tough because my mom has to stay by my side for everything," Jordan Wells said. "So she does like everything for me."
Three weeks ago, she attended a National Transportation Safety Board hearing in Washington investigating her crash and others involving medevac helicopters.
Preliminary findings suggest that the emergency chopper should have stayed on the ground that stormy night. Air traffic controllers, the report says, were "casual and sloppy," relaying a misleading weather report to the pilot that sent him straight into thick, blinding fog. For families of the dead, questions linger about why the girls were airlifted instead of sent by ambulance to the hospital. Questions, of course, that will never bring back Ashley Younger.
"Even now I think about her, I just see her smiling ... just always full of laughs and joy and she loved people," Stephanie Younger said. "We were always together, always. She was my best friend as well as my daughter. She just feels like a hole in my heart."
Scott Wells said, "Jordan told me not long ago, she said, losing Ashley hurts more than all the physical pain. And she cries sometimes uncontrollably over this, over the loss of her friend, Ashley."
Added Lynn Wells: "She says her heart hurts."
Her parents say she often wakes up with nightmares, reliving the night of the crash. But she is trying to put her life back together. Two days ago, to a rousing reception, she visited her high school. She said she knows how lucky she is to be alive.
"I guess everyone keeps telling me that God has a purpose for me," she said. "That it wasn't my time to leave yet."