BRADENTON, Fla. (FOX 13) - Tom MacKnight will never look at life the same. He survived when the odds were against him.
"Today is a different day than the last days have been,” he told FOX 13. “Life is different today.”
The photographer was onboard a helicopter Wednesday morning, doing a photo shoot, when the chopper crashed into the waters off Anna Maria Island.
"I'm setting up, changing my camera settings for the next shot. The next thing I know, there was a large impact. I was thrust forward," MacKnight recalled.
As the chopper went down, MacKnight didn't have much time to react.
"The second I started moving, I was tangled up in debris of some sort. I looked up, the helicopter was still sinking and whatever had me was pulling me down with it. I was pretty much running out of air, being stuck. That point, I kind of figured that was the way it was going to end for me," he said.
It wouldn't be his last breath. Somehow MacKnight came loose from the debris.
"I started to come up. I came up as fast as I could," he said.
MacKnight was the last person to surface from the chopper. Photographer Pete Boden was already out and so was the pilot, Stanley Lee. Lee was rushed to Blake Hospital where he remains now in stable condition.
"Stan is being taken care of and I think he’s a strong man. He’s a stubborn guy so he will make sure he will get better," said MacKnight.
As the wreckage was pulled to shore, MacKnight can't fathom how all three men survived.
"I believe that people are here for a reason. People have things they need to do and apparently I have unfinished business," he continued.
While aerial photography has been a part of his life, MacKnight said it's time for a new chapter.
"Today was my mother’s birthday,” he explained. “I didn’t have a chance to get a card out because of the accident. I gave her a birthday present and promised I would never shoot from a helicopter again. And I think that gift is non-returnable.”