“I remember the ride up the mountain in the van,” he recollected with some effort. “I recall the room you get ready in. I had (my equipment), and I remember prior to putting on my boots. As far as I remember, I have never put on my ski boots in New Zealand.”
Kevin Ormsby, former Air Force pilot, had seemingly lost everything after a life-changing ski accident in New Zealand that rendered him unable to fly.
While stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, as an instructor pilot, Ormsby visited New Zealand to ski with members of the U.S. Olympic Freestyle Ski Team. After starting his second run on July 29, 2002, he was found unconscious.
“No one there saw the accident. I’m not exactly sure what happened,” said Ormsby, who is currently stationed at Ramstein. “They just found me lying in the snow.”
With no witnesses to the accident and no recollection of it himself, he regained consciousness in the middle of September 2002 at a hospital in Palo Alto, California, with a broken bone, torn ligaments and a severe brain injury.
“I had shattered the bone and tore the medial collateral ligament in my left knee, and tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus cartilage in both my knees,” Ormsby said. “The brain injury I had sustained was accompanied by double vision which still affects me today.”
Due to the severity of his brain injury, he couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment he started making conscious decisions.
“I don’t exactly remember when my first lucid thought was, because I was in and out for a while,” Ormsby said. “I remember sometime in October that year I told myself, as soon as everything is fixed physically, I’ll be good to get back into the jet.”
Ormsby was released from the hospital in 2003. He felt he wasn’t the same person he had been prior to the ski trip. After losing close friends, his comfort zone and his job, in 2004 he had a brief encounter with suicidal thoughts.
“I was frustrated because I could tell I was different, and I had lost everything,” Ormsby said. “I had no future. Everything I had was gone. I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got nothing. No one will care if I’m gone.’”
The next decision he made seemed to have come out of nowhere but felt like a natural reaction.
“I had an impulse to pick up the phone and call for help,” Ormsby said. “The decision must have come from all the suicide training that explained what to watch out for and who to call.”
After picking up the phone, Ormsby continued in the military for seven more years after the accident while rebuilding himself in hopes to get back in the air.
The thoughts of getting back in the jet were just false hopes, he explained.
“I was told that it was highly improbable for me to get back in the jet,” Ormsby said. “But what I wasn’t told was that it was impossible, so I continued to think I could.”
In 2008, while stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, hearing the jets take off, he realized he wouldn’t be able to fly again, but continued to contribute as he could. Although he was never cleared to fly again, Ormsby attributes his recovery toward his desire to return to the sky.
“My recovery was due in good part to my desire to get back to flying, which I had worked hard to get into in the first place,” Ormsby said. “Even though in the long run my double vision made flying a complete impossibility, I was able to excel and be a dynamic member of the units I worked in.”
In 2009 Ormsby was separated from the Air Force and he moved back to his home town in Truckee, California, where he was a ski instructor for two years.
“I had been applying to jobs before I left the military but hadn’t yet received a job offer,” Ormsby said. “As much as I love skiing, I realized that instructing was just a temporary thing.”
Ormsby applied for many jobs throughout Europe and eventually was accepted into his current position as a U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces in Africa long-term planner.
With his life rebuilt and his future ahead of him, Ormsby recounts how far he has come since the accident.
“It’s been miraculous,” Ormsby said. “The doctors told my parents I was going to be a vegetable for the rest of my life. Then they told them I would be dependent for the rest of my life. Now, look at me. I am living by myself in Germany, thrilled with my career and excited to see where it takes me next.”
Ormsby shares his story with people because he feels it could make a difference in their lives.
“It’s like we’ve been told, ‘Every Airman has their story,’” Ormsby said. “Mine was, ‘I lost everything, but I didn’t lose a life.’ Now I hope to leave a positive influence on others.”