- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - On the Friday before Labor Day in 2010, Mark Kedrowski’s airplane fell from the sky.

Kedrowski had just taken off from the Lake Elmo Airport, flying solo to a friend’s cabin in northern Minnesota, when his Glasair Super II-RG single-engine airplane banked sharply to the right and crashed into a field of soybeans, the Pioneer Press reported .

Passersby rushed to the site, about a half-mile north of the runway, and peeled back pieces of the smashed plane to free the pilot.

Kedrowski was flown by helicopter to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, which would become his home for the next two months.

He suffered a permanent brain injury. Both feet were partially severed; his left leg had to be amputated below the knee. He broke every bone in his face. His left side was paralyzed. He underwent more than 50 surgeries, including two seven-hour surgeries on his face. He spent four weeks in a coma.

“I don’t remember any of it,” said Kedrowski, 46, of White Bear Lake. “Even after I woke up from the coma, I wasn’t lucid for another four weeks after that. They said I’m one of two or three miracles at Regions.”

At the time of the crash, Kedrowski, who owned a software-development company in St. Paul, was an experienced pilot who had logged more than 650 flying hours. He used his plane to commute to consulting jobs in Dallas, Cincinnati, New York and New Orleans. He had often flown to his friend’s cabin in Pine River, Minn., where he was headed the afternoon of the crash.

According to weather reports, visibility was clear and wind speed was 19 knots, gusting to 28 knots, when Kedrowski took off about 4 p.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the crash was due to pilot error. Kedrowski failed “to maintain control of the airplane during takeoff with gusty wind conditions, which resulted in a collision with terrain,” according to the report filed in June 2011.

Kedrowski and his legal team dispute the NTSB claims. They say the crash happened after the plane’s engine failed because of a defective fuel pump.

“It had a leaking valve, so all the fuel wasn’t being delivered to the engine,” Kedrowski said. “I told the first-responder (at the crash scene) that I was losing power, and I was trying to return to the airport.”

In December 2012, Kedrowski sued the designer of the fuel pump, Lycoming Engines, and its manufacturer, Kelly Aerospace Power Systems.

After a lengthy trial in early 2016, a Ramsey County jury found the companies at fault and awarded Kedrowski $27.7 million.

But six months later, Ramsey County District Judge John Guthmann awarded judgment to Lycoming and dismissed Kedrowski’s complaint with prejudice. Guthmann wrote in his order that the court erred in dismissing Lycoming’s objections to an expert witness for Kedrowski.

Among the issues the judge raised: the expert witness admitted he had never before evaluated or tested an engine-driven fuel pump like the one in Kedrowski’s airplane; the expert witness offered no scientifically reliable explanation for why the fuel pump had supplied fuel to the airplane’s engine “for 312 hours without any reported problems on take-off, during climb or in the air”; and the expert said the airplane was capable of flight “despite the existence of defects in the fuel pump.”

Kedrowski’s attorneys have filed an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

At trial, Lycoming officials denied responsibility, saying Kedrowski lost control of the plane. Daniel Haws, a St. Paul lawyer serving as local counsel for Lycoming Engines, said last week that because of the appeal, he could not comment on the case.

Kelly Aerospace Power Systems filed for bankruptcy just before trial and the case proceeded against Lycoming.

Kedrowski, the youngest of three children, grew up in Maplewood and Lake Elmo. At Hill-Murray High School in Maplewood, he played soccer and tennis, ran track and was an all-state Alpine skier.

“He was a great athlete, a wonderful athlete,” said his father, Len Kedrowski, former CFO of Andersen Corp. “Everything he did, he excelled at.”

After graduating from Hill-Murray in 1989, he headed to Western State University in Gunnison, Colo., where he majored in communications and graduated in 1993.

While at the university, he took up windsurfing, competing in races around the country. In 1999, he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials.

“I liked the freedom and the wind and the water - just the flow of things,” Mark Kedrowski said. “There’s a lot of athleticism to it. You have to be strong but agile.”

He practiced windsurfing on White Bear Lake every chance he got. “I knew every corner of this lake,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to live on it.”

After the Olympic trials, Kedrowski, a longtime fan of the Microsoft Flight Simulator video game, took up flying.

“I was looking for a nice happy pursuit that would keep me challenged,” he said. “Piloting was fun because of the mental challenge that goes around it, and all the regulations and technical aspects of it were fascinating to me.”

Said Len Kedrowski: “He took care of things, so when he wanted to become a pilot, I didn’t have any doubts about him doing it.”

Len and Mark Kedrowski started a software company called BlueEarth Internet in 1996; Mark Kedrowski bought out his father in 2003.

Mark Kedrowski and his first wife, Masako, have two sons: Kaito, 12, and Kento, 9. They were separated at the time of the crash and divorced about a year later. He and his second wife, Jeri Novalany, have a son, Beckett, 6; the couple divorced in 2016.

The boys spend Tuesday and Thursday nights and every other weekend with him; their artwork decorates the walls of his apartment.

He lives with Enzo, a rambunctious 8-month-old yellow Labrador who was named for the lead character in Garth Stein’s book “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

Eyewitnesses started calling 911 as soon as they saw the yellow plane start to crash.

A nurse who works at Regions was on his way home from work when he saw the plane go down. “He was one of the first on the scene,” Len Kedrowski said. “He freed up Mark’s windpipe and cut off his straps because he was strapped in. When the plane crash-landed, he was on his back, laying flat.”

Len and Jean Kedrowski raced to Regions as soon as they got word. “The surgeon was telling us he couldn’t save the knee . and his wife, mother and sister were all crying hysterically,” Len Kedrowski said. “Finally I looked at him, and I said: ‘I can’t take anymore. . Save the knee,’ and I just walked out. He did a wonderful job, but he was ready to cut it off.”

That was news to Mark Kedrowski. “That would have been above the knee?” he asked his father during a recent interview at his apartment. “Man. I’m learning so many things still about my accident and injuries. It’s never-ending.”

Metal from the plane “scraped all the skin off the bone of his left leg,” Len Kedrowski said. “They found the ankle bone of his right foot in the mud alongside the plane, and they took it and cleaned it and pinned it in place through the heel.”

After two months at Regions, Kedrowski spent four months at Capitol View Transitional Care Center.

“I had more than 30 surgeries under general anesthesia,” Mark Kedrowski said. “I had to undergo others at the University of Minnesota and Fairview Southdale. My teeth had to be reconstructed; I had my ankles done at Fairview Southdale.”

He had two craniotomies to remove parts of his skull to relieve swelling of the brain; large scars crisscross his scalp. Doctors estimate he lost about 25 percent of his brain’s frontal lobe.

“I could talk, but my words were nonsensical,” Mark Kedrowski said. “I had to relearn how to swallow. I had to relearn how to talk, everything.”

Kedrowski, who was left-handed, also had to learn to write with his right hand. “Writing is still hard, but I can manipulate things with hashi, or chopsticks, so that’s a bonus,” he said.

Len Kedrowski, who served as his son’s guardian until 2012 and his conservator until 2015, still has power of attorney for him.

“He has the type of brain injury that won’t allow him to realize how injured he is,” Len Kedrowski said.

“Which is a blessing and a curse,” Mark Kedrowski said. “So many things are baffling to me. I have difficulty with numbers, and I have difficulty finding words, things like that, but my visual/spatial orientation is very good.”

Kedrowski uses a cane to walk short distances during the day, but a wheelchair the rest of the time.

He regularly gets acupuncture to treat depression and takes medication to treat seizures and involuntary muscle contractions in his left arm and leg.

“I take no pain medication,” he said. “I have some pain, but I live with it.”

When he is not taking care of his sons, he shops for groceries, rides his recumbent bike, watches TV, reads books and works out in the fitness center of his Boatwork Commons apartment complex.

Although he was raised Catholic, Kedrowski is now a member of the Eaglebrook Church in White Bear Lake.

“I fell off faith for a while, and then the accident further drifted me away because I was so angry about this whole thing,” he said. “Eventually, I went to church . and it got me thinking straight, thinking right. God is for me and with me. I got baptized last year at Eaglebrook. I have a strong faith life now, which is good.”

Kedrowski was in Regions, being treated for a serious infection in his left leg, when the jury reached its verdict in February 2016.

“Of course, we were elated,” Len Kedrowski said. “Finally, five years after the crash, he was going to be compensated for his pain and suffering, as well as damages. I thought he could go on living without fear that he would not be able to afford his needed care nor provide for his family.”

The jury awarded $16 million for Kedrowski’s past and future pain and suffering, disfigurement, embarrassment and emotional distress; $7.4 million for past and future medical expenses; and $4.1 million for past and future loss of earnings.

Len Kedrowski said the judge’s reversal was a great injustice.

“The four weeks of an intense and very emotionally stressful trial apparently meant nothing,” Len Kedrowski said. “Mark and the defendant were judged by a panel of their peers, as they say, and the defendant was liable.”

His son’s attorneys - Steven Watters, Cortney LeNeave and Thomas Fuller - declined to be interviewed, but released a statement on Wednesday.

“The jury’s verdict was fully supported by a fair interpretation of the evidence and the law that they were obligated to apply,” the statement read. “We are still shocked that the judge nullified the jury’s hard work, which lasted nearly five weeks, and took away their thoughtful verdict. The appeal process is underway. We are confident the jury’s efforts will be vindicated and fully restored.”

The statement also referenced the NTSB report, which was not allowed at trial.

“The NTSB rushed to blame the pilot without uncovering key facts showing the fuel pump was defective . and failed to interview first-responder witnesses to whom the pilot said his plane lost engine power,” the attorneys said. “The NTSB also did not test for defects in the fuel system.”

Mark Kedrowski said he worries about providing for his three sons.

“I live my life, I’m happy, but I’m concerned, especially as everyone gets older - me and the kids - that I don’t have enough to meet their needs,” he said. “I basically have no money that they can rely on for college. Even little things, like sending them to camp, I cannot afford that or barely can afford that.”

If the Minnesota Court of Appeals rules in his favor, he plans to use the money to provide for his family and buy a wheelchair-accessible house and van.

The money would also be used to pay for extra care he will need as he gets older, Kedrowski said. Because of the brain injury, he is more susceptible to getting Alzheimer’s or dementia, he said.

“I’m not angry,” he said. “I’ve cried very little through this, but I have had a few breakdowns. I was sitting in my chair in my former office (at my house in Hugo) - I have a little windsurfer replica - and I was looking at that, and I envisioned in my mind what it would take to stand on that and windsurf again.

“I broke down because I will never do that again. I just cried and cried and cried.”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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