Spirited Outlook. Speaker Tells Students To Unleash Potential.
by Matt Crossman. Adrian Daily Telegram, Adrian, Michigan.
As an Adrian College student, George Burk used his left arm like a whip, unleashing a mean fastball. As a motivational speaker now, his left arm serves as a reminder that human spirit can overcome the greatest adversity.
Where he once had fingers full of life, Burk now has a scarred stump, the most visible of injuries he suffered as the lone survivor of a horrendous plane crash in 1970.
Burk brought his story of survival and meeting goals to high school students across the county recently. His appearances were sponsored by the Lenawee Community in Schools group.
Speaking at the schools, Burk rehashed the harrowing few minutes he experienced as the plane was ripped apart in mid-air.
His memory of the event is pieced together from from actual memories and from what he told his family members as he went in and out of consciousness during his recovery, which lasted more than a year.
While his memory might not be entirely clear, his message was clear. "Stop with the 'would,' the 'could,' the 'should'," he told the 10th, 11th and 12th graders in attendance. "Rescript to 'shall,' 'will,' 'must.' "Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. Tell them you can, you will, you shall."
It was that spirit of literally never saying die that kept Burk alive through 26 major operations, transfusions, 76 pints of blood, numerous infections, collapsed lungs, blod clots and a recovery process that continues.
He remains in constant pain. But he refuses to give in. Like a mantra, he repeats, I'm not supposed to be here."
He told students in grisly detail about the plunge in northern California in 1970, two years after he returned from a tour of Vietnam in the Air Force.
He joined 13 other military people aboard a flight bound for Spokane. Although there were a few last minute changes to the flight crew and limited visibility, the beginning of the flight proceeded normally.
Facing backwards, Burk remembers watching the white line - a habit he still has - as the plane lifted off.
He tried to nap. Thirty seconds, maybe a minute later, "CRACK!
"The window cracked."
In a matter of seconds, the plane lost pressure, its windows blew out, the engines caught fire and the propellers were merely turning with the wind.
"The noise was deafening. Things were being sucked out of the windows," he said.
After seeing a friend decapitated by sheer force, Burk curled into the survival position by putting his head in his lap and locking his hands under his butt.
"Thats the last conscious thought I have before impact," he said. "No, my life did not pass in front of me."
The next thing he knew he was in the plane with a broken nose. He stood up and felt no pain. After a few seconds, he felt as if a bucket of boiling water was dumped on him.
He doesn't remember, but he dug his way out through a crack in the fuselage.
The next thing he remembers is waking up outside, hollering to God, hollering to his family, hollering in general: "This isn't happening to me. Please God, don't let me die."
There were bodies around him, but he thought he heard someone calling from the fuselage. As he approached the still burning plane, he was blown back.
He recalls the sensation of his head and face being covered and stung by hundreds of bees.
He awoke again to see the face of a volunteer firefighter. Healthy doses of morphine blur the next several hours.
He's been able to piece together two significant events that saved his life. One was that a cattle rancher, Mr. John Davieau, smelled smoke. The man followed his nose to a ravine he'd never been to before - the ravine where the plane crashed.
Burk was shipped to a burn unit in San Antonio on a plane that flew there at the same time every other Monday. Had the accident happened 20 minutes later, he never would have made it.
"Tragedy is difficult to deal with. But you have a choice. I chose to live," Burk said.
Burk takes his positive messages to schools, colleges and other organizations across the country. He clearly enjoys telling the story, and feels especially heartened when he makes contact with students.
Dozens approached him after his speeches to offer their thanks. "I've been trying for 27 years to turn a negative into a positive," Burk said.