By Anne Schindler
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WTLV) - Pilot Graham Hill was just looking for a good view of the downtown fireworks when he took his girlfriend for a New Year's Eve flight over downtown Jacksonville. Instead, he was met by gunfire.
"We were just north of the football stadium, at 1,200 feet when there was a loud pop. ...And that's when I noticed the bullet hole. And so I let her know that we had been shot at, and just when I said that I felt blood running down my neck."
In a YouTube video seen below this story, Hill says he handed the controls to his girlfriend when he realized he'd been shot in the head, and used his jacket to staunch the bleeding. They landed safely at Craig Field. And he appears to have taken the incident with a dose of good humor, even posting this X-ray as his Facebook profile photo.
Jacksonville pilot and flight instructor Chris Hughes, who has actually flown the plane that was hit, heard about the incident in an online pilots' forum.
"Shocked. It's not something you would expect to really run into flying over a city like Jacksonville."
Unfortunately, the problem of celebratory gunfire is not that rare in Jacksonville. An 8-year-old boy was shot in the foot, also on New Year's Eve. And as we reported at that time, Jacksonville police say they answered 259 calls for discharged firearms on that day alone.
"They know it is wrong, it is illegal, just like any other law that is broken, they are out there doing it, they know it is not right, they just think they are not going to get caught," JSO spokesperson Melissa Bujeda told First Coast News.
Chris Hughes still views the shooting as a freak occurrence. But he will tell his flight students that it's just one more thing for a pilot to be prepared for.
"At this point, yeah, I would probably warn them, if they're flying on New Year's Eve or any other major holiday when Americans like to shoot guns, then be careful. That's probably what I'd warn them."
This incident has of course gotten a lot of attention in aviation circles. But the folks we spoke to at the FAA say the chances of it happening again are almost infinitesimally small.