When Austin Hatch, a 19-year-old, 6-ft., 6-in. senior at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, announced this month that he had accepted a scholarship to play basketball for the University of Michigan in 2014, it made national news.
It’s not because of his skills on the court, which had once been formidable, but because of what Hatch has endured to make it back to the basketball court at all.
Hatch is the survivor of two horrific plane crashes that killed five family members, the first in 2003, killing his mother, older sister and younger brother. The second crash occurred in 2011, killing his father and stepmother. Both flights were in small single-engine aircraft piloted by Hatch’s father, Dr. Stephen Hatch.
A former prep sports player of the year in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind., Austin Hatch barely survived the June 11, 2011, accident, suffering a serious head injury, broken ribs and a punctured lung and spending eight weeks in a coma.
This week, Austin Hatch spoke publicly for the first time about his trauma, his loss, his ongoing recovery and his hopes for the future.
Speaks Out for First Time
“Waking up from the coma, I had no idea where I was,” he told reporters assembled at Loyola High. “I had no idea what year it was. It was just like being born. I had to learn how to walk and talk and eat. Over time, as my brain healed, I knew what happened, but it was ‘Where’s my dad? Where’s my family?’ That pain is never going to go away.”
Austin moved from Fort Wayne to Los Angeles this past summer to live with his uncle Michael Hatch, who now acts as his legal guardian, and to be closer to the facilities still needed for his medical rehabilitation.
“Austin has demonstrated tremendous courage,” says Michael. “And all the medical staff and doctors involved in Austin’s care will tell you that his recovery is off the charts.”
Cleared to Play Again
Having been cleared by doctors to once again to play basketball, Austin has deferred from joining his Loyola teammates in actual games for the time being, not wanting to take a spot on the floor until he has fully regained his skills.
“I don’t want to be put in the game because of who I am,” he says. “If I’m not going to help win basketball games I don’t deserve to be out there.”
Still, Austin is confident that his time will again come. “Basketball has given me something to shoot for in my recovery,” he says. “It’s my goal. I realized how lofty it was. There were times when I couldn’t walk. From the wheelchair I told people I was going to play basketball again. The chances seemed remote. But I just said, ‘I’m going to prove you wrong. I’m going to get there.’ ”
Says Loyola coach Jamal Adams: “It is an absolute blessing to have Austin here. He has given me a great deal of insight into the human spirit.”
The 2003 crash occurred after Dr. Hatch’s plane ran out of fuel and, then, during a forced landing, clipped a utility pole. Austin’s mother Julie and siblings Lindsay and Ian did not survive. In 2011, after a flight between Michigan and Indiana, the Hatch plane missed its landing approach to the runway, crashing into a nearby garage. Killed were Austin’s father and stepmother Kim.
While Austin hopes to fully recover physically, he acknowledges that the emotional healing will last a lifetime but feels there is a reason he has survived.
“If you look at what I’ve been through – two airplane accidents – I think God has his hand on me and that there is a plan for my life.”