Reef Hogan is obsessed with flying, even though he is still recovering from numerous injuries he suffered in a plane crash last summer, including a broken ankle, broken heel and back fractures.
“When it comes to high school and that, I’m not the best. But when it comes to aviation, I love it,” the 16-year-old from Billings says.
It might seem surprising that he feels that way, considering what happened the last time he was in an airplane.
Reef, his father and the pilot were on a trip from Helena to Jackson Hole in a 1971 Cessna 337 Skymaster late last July when the engine stalled as they approached a mountain range in Madison County.
“We weren’t high enough to recover from a stall like that. My Dad just said, 'Reef hold on.' I didn’t say anything. I was just like, 'Oh God.' And he said, 'I love you son,' and I just said, 'I love you too, Dad.'”
Seconds later, the plane crashed into trees on the side of the mountain and tore wide open.
“The pilot on the left seat goes flying out. It was kind of hard to tell what happened to my Dad,” Reef said.
Reef’s father, Brandon Hogan, died in the crash. Brandon Hogan had a military and government background and worked in the film and movie industry.
“He met people that hardly anybody got to meet. When I was four, he introduced me and my brother to astronaut Buzz Aldrin because he was friends with him back then,” Reef recalled.
Reef credits his father for teaching him to stay strong and push through any situation. He found himself in an unimaginable one on that mountain. His father dead—and the pilot injured and in shock.
“I thought, I’ve got to save him if he is still alive. So I took my belt off and used it as a tourniquet on his leg so he wouldn’t bleed out. And I crawled back over and lied down and looked around. Because over by Ennis, that’s bear country up on that mountain,” said Reef.
Fortunately, Reef was able to find his father’s phone—and somehow get a signal to call 911.
“The phone only had nine percent left on it. And I somehow got a hold of them. I just talked to the lady and said we are up in a plane crash southwest of Ennis Lake and I think my dad is dead. The pilot is still alive and I’m still alive,” he said.
Reef and the pilot spent another five hours at the crash site before rescuers could finally reach them. While he was lying there, waiting, he found his father’s Rolex watch lying on the ground next to him.
While Reef went to the hospital, where he stayed for almost a month, his clothes were cut off him- with the watch inside- and accidentally sent to the landfill.
And that’s where his spinal surgeon, Dr. Ben Smith, comes in. Smith later delivered the watch, a wallet, and Reef’s clothes to him in the hospital after searching through the landfill to find them.
“I almost cried because of it. He lost his dad when he was young too, so he felt a connection. He went to a landfill for his about three hours outside of Bozeman with his family and his friends,” said Reef.
“It was a miracle that they even found it in that landfill,” said Reef’s mom, Kelly, who was touched by the effort.
And it’s also a miracle that Reef survived to tell his story. He says he plans to chase his dreams—like his father did—and that includes flying an airplane.
“I want to get back up and flying again. I know what happens if I get into another one, but I don’t plan to,” he said.
Reef's mother had recently started a new job when her son was injured, and her insurance didn't go into effect until two days after the crash. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help with expenses.