Christie Brinkley Marks 25 Years Since She Almost Died in a Helicopter Crash: 'Each Day Is a Gift'
Brinkley was featured on the cover of PEOPLE in April 1994 after she survived a terrifying helicopter crash during a ski trip in Colorado
Christie Brinkley is grateful to be alive after a 1994 high-flying ski adventure turned into a near-fatal nightmare.
On Monday, the 25th anniversary of the helicopter crash that almost killed Brinkley and five others in Telluride, Colorado, the model reflected on the terrifying incident and her perspective on life since that day.
Along with the sentimental Instagram post, Brinkley, 65, also shared the April 18, 1994 issue of PEOPLE, which she was featured on the cover of, showing off her injury from the accident — a bandaged splint on her swollen left wrist.
“This happened 25 years ago today and not a day goes by that I have not counted my blessing for being alive,” Brinkley captioned the post.
“I know for a fact that tomorrow is not a guarantee and that each day is a gift and an opportunity to make sure that everybody we love knows it! 💛💛💛💛💛💛💛💛💛💛💛💛” the mom of three added.
In 1994, Brinkley, then 40, embarked on a heli-skiing tour in the San Juan mountain range with five other friends: Ricky Taubman, a Los Angeles real estate developer; Sandra Will Carradine, the founder of Telluride’s Sheridan Arts Foundation; Carradine’s 11-year-old son, Cade; pilot Tom Sharp; and ski guide Mike Friedman.
Though the model was vacationing in Telluride with daughter Alexa Ray Joel, then 8, she was not on the helicopter for the trip. Brinkley’s husband at the time, Billy Joel, was also not present during the incident, as he was away in Chicago on tour.
Instead of using a typical ski lift, heli-skiing is when people pay a daily fee to rely on a helicopter to transport skiers to a remote peak and lift them back up to the top of the mountain after each run down the slope.
While the adventure sounded ideal at the time for Brinkley and her crew, the group quickly learned of the potentially deadly perils of heli-skiing after they survived a horrific accident 12,800 feet up a mountain with few injuries.
Before Brinkley and her companions were allowed to fly that morning, they were instructed for 45 minutes about avalanches and other aspects of heli-skiing. A little over an hour into their trip, the group decided to try a slightly higher spot nearby — but it was on the way to that mountain point that things went terribly wrong.
Just as they reached the peak, the helicopter took an unexpected, discomfitingly sharp turn, Brinkley recalled. The sudden movements continued until the chopper began a precipitous, 200-foot tumble down a 40-degree incline.
“Just boom, boom, boom, pow!” said Brinkley. “I would look out the window and see sky-mountain-snow, sky-mountain-snow.” At some point, Brinkley recalled, she began thinking, “I am going to die. Right now? Like this? A ski trip? Today?”
But as the helicopter slid downward, Brinkley said she became totally focused. “All of a sudden I said, ‘Alexa.’ I suddenly thought, ‘I am her mother, and she needs me. I am not going to die. I refuse. I won’t.’ With each blow I would call out her name. It was just machinery and me—’Alexa!’ Smash! ‘Alexa! ‘Smash!”
The model eventually fell out of the helicopter’s open door, landing in the snow on her back. Once she landed, Brinkley said she squinted up at the sunlight and thought, “I am alive! God!”
Though she originally thought she was the only survivor, Brinkley discovered the rest of the group scattered amongst the snow and debris — many of whom had suffered injuries. Rescue helicopters arrived within an hour to help, before transporting them to hospitals.
When Brinkley arrived at Telluride Medical Center, Alexa had been waiting for her — with Joel not far behind.
“Seeing my daughter was the sweetest thing in the world,” said Brinkley. “Everything I had dreamt of when I was going through the ordeal was that. She came over to me, put her hands on my face and hugged me. I told her I loved her so much.”
Of her now ex-husband’s arrival one day later, she added: “I remember him coming in on a mission to get me home.”
In the wake of the crash, Brinkley believed a deeper appreciation for family and life was one of the lessons to come out of the miracle.
“Maybe I’ll have the patience to be a better mom,” she said in 1994. “Or maybe I’ll go to medical school and become a doctor.”
When that suggestion was met with a raised eyebrow, she protested, “I am serious!” Then she smiled. “Maybe I will just simplify my life,” she said. “Because at the moment, everything is so sweet to me.”