On the 10th of December 2005, the Port Harcourt bound Sosoliso Airlines flight from Abuja crashed on the runway claiming lives of many including 60 Loyola Jesuit College students. Kechi Okwuchi was one of only two survivors of the devastating crash. 7 years on the road to recovery, this amazing young woman shares her remarkable story of strength and determination.
My name is Kechi Okwuchi, I’m 23. My birthday was on the 29th of October. I’m the first born of a family of four; my father, my mother and my 12-year-old little sister. I went to Loyola Jesuit College, Abuja for my secondary education. I’m currently in college at the University of Saint Thomas, Houston, Texas, USA. I had a fantastic childhood, thanks to my parents. While I spent almost all of my holidays with cousins and family in Lagos, my home was back East in Aba. From what my mom and dad tell me, I was a very content and happy kid. I do remember that I was also very talkative (still am) and my teachers would always put into my report cards that yes, she’s very bright, but she talks too much! I was an only child for eleven years, but I never felt lonely; I had (have) great friends and a lot of cousins.
Prior to the plane crash, my life changing experience was the birth of my little sister in 2000. I went from ‘only daughter’ to ‘big sister’, and it felt fantastic to help raise her. The Plane Crash Fifteen minutes to the end of the flight, the pilot announced that we were soon to land in the Port Harcourt airport. I remember I was sitting in an aisle seat, and my close friend Toke was on the aisle seat to my right. The ensuing turbulence was getting very frequent, but I didn’t think too much of it until someone from the back shouted ‘Is this plane trying to land?’ I couldn’t see out the window from my seat, but now I think about it that was probably for the best. Everything was so surreal in that moment. I turned to Toke and we held hands, and I was like ‘Maybe we should pray?’ Before we could even start, there was this sudden shrill sound ringing in my ears, and next thing I knew, I was waking up in Milpark Hospital, South Africa.
Other victims of Sosoliso Plane crash
To this day I don’t remember the actual impact of the crash. But, The first voice I heard was feminine and unfamiliar; it was a nurse and she kept calling my name, asking me if I could hear her. As I roused, I remember feeling completely numb and completely exhausted in a way I couldn’t quite understand. Eventually I saw my mom’s silhouette; I could tell she was smiling, but I remember wishing I could see her face more clearly, ‘cause my vision was very blurry. As I lay there, I knew that things were pretty bad, but that she was right there beside me made me feel such relief, I can’t even explain. 75 Surgeries and Counting… My friends and family keep me going. Their love, their presence, physical and emotional, their prayers and the prayers of all who support me. I’m fully aware that the recovery period after any surgery is never easy or short, but I also know from experience that not only will God see me through the procedure, He’ll also see me through the recuperation.
Getting into College Applying for college was actually fun for me; I’d been out of school for so long that by 2010, I was quite eager to get back into it. School had always been a necessary tedium in the past, so this feeling was a first for me. I took the SATs and TOEFL and applied to three schools within Texas, including the one I’m currently attending. I was initially supposed to transfer to Rice University after my 1st semester, but I fell in love with the UST campus so I stayed on. UST kind of reminds me of Loyola Jesuit College; I guess I couldn’t help getting attached. So far, I can honestly say that college has been challenging and fun.
It’s very different from my high school experience, because I’m studying things that I’m actually interested in. As a student I couldn’t ask for better. Stares and Questions I always get those awkward stares. How do I deal with them? When I think about it, if the situation were reversed and someone who was burned like me walked past me on the street, I would most likely be inclined to look at least once; it’s human nature to be curious. So I don’t begrudge anyone who stares. If it’s a kid, a Nigerian or an African-American, they’d usually ask me about it upfront, and I have no problem telling anyone who asks what happened. I guess it’s safe to say that my positive attitude makes it easier for others to treat me normal, which is something I greatly appreciate.
My Support System There’s truly nothing like prayer. It reinforces faith, which gives you courage. It calms me when things get really hard to deal with. If there’s one thing I learned through this experience, it’s the value of faith. Then of course, there’s my dear family, who have been nothing but solid rocks on which I lean on. My friends, too. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s the absolute truth. Without these three elements, I may have made it this far regardless, but I would not be the same person I am right now, mentally. My Family, My Rock! It’s been hard for my family for sure, but I suppose I must have gotten my optimism from somewhere. The glass is always half-full with them, and I take pride in and strength from that fact. We have always been very close, but this entire experience brought us even closer, to each other and to God. They are my biggest supporters! My Awesome Friends…True Gems! My friends are fantastic. True gems. They keep me grounded, and they treat me no differently than when we were all in school together.
There were a few who didn’t quite know how to treat me or behave around me when they saw me for the first time after the accident. But after talking for a few minutes they were like, “Oh, it’s the same stupid Kechi, sef”, and they immediately relaxed. As for relationships, no, I am not in one right now. For You, Yes, You Reading This… I would say this…I may not know exactly what you’re going through and I’m so sorry you have to go through it. But I can tell you what I believe – No, it’s never hopeless, and yes, you ARE strong enough to get through this.
In this life, too many unexpected things happen, but the truth is that God will never allow any one person to suffer through more than he/she cannot overcome. So, not only are you equipped to pull through, people around you are also equipped to help you on your way, whether they know it or not.
So please, keep up your willpower!
God bless you.
The transformation stages and hand of God