The lone survivor of a plane crash in Union County just before Christmas is speaking publicly about the ordeal and her efforts to walk again.
Brittany Whitener suffered spinal injuries in the crash that killed three of her close friends who all worked together at one point in time at a medical facility in Blue Ridge.
“I consider them more like family,” she tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.
Robert Atkinson, a 56-year-old pharmacist who had recently left to open a pharmacy in Blairsville, had been trying for months to get Whitener, 55-year-old Renea Greiner and 50-year-old Michelle Seay to go up in his single-engine Piper.
Whitener says December 19 was a time they could all finally get together.
“It was just out of the blue, ‘Hey, let’s go on a night flight and look at Christmas lights’,” she says.
Whitener, who was seated up front next to Atkinson, says they flew around north Georgia for about 30 minutes enjoying the lights and then headed back to Blairsville Municipal Airport.
She remembers Atkinson pointing out the controls as they were getting ready to land and she even took a picture of the runway lights just before the crash.
“I don’t remember much of what happened. I just know we were coming in to land and then the next thing I know I was hollering. I could see the rescuers in the woods and I just continued to holler until they got there,” says Whitener.
She was air-lifted to a hospital in Gainesville and would learn following surgery that her three friends didn’t make it.
“At first, I did have survivor’s guilt. You know, why didn’t they survive. I mean if I could survive, what’s the difference?”
But Whitener says the spouses and family members of her three friends assured her she shouldn’t feel bad.
Now the community is coming together to help the 29-year-old with medical expenses, including a t-shirt sale by the Blue Ridge Pharmacy, a GoFundMe page set up by the doctor’s office where Whitener works, and a benefit auction and dinner which will be held Feb. 16 at the Union County Civic Center.
“We all four come from two small communities and for everybody to rally behind me — people I don’t even know — that’s more than what words can express,” she says.
Whitener says her prognosis is good. She has already regained some feeling in her legs and is hopeful she’ll be walking again soon.
“If I survived the plane crash and made it this far… it may take me a while, but I’ll walk again one day.”