Philadelphia man recalls Florida helicopter crash and the NFL QB who came to his rescue

Buccaneers backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and his two brothers were cruising nearby on jet skis when they saw the crash.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2023
Philly man recalls Fla. helicopter crash & NFL QB coming to rescue
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"I really thought I was going to die in that helicopter." A Philadelphia man and his parents were on a helicopter when it crashed in Florida. Moments later, an NFL quarterback came to their aid.

TAMPA, Florida (WPVI) -- A Philadelphia man who was on a helicopter that crashed off the coast of Tampa, Florida last week is recalling the terrifying moments and the remarkable rescue by an NFL quarterback.

Hunter Hupp, his parents and their pilot were out on a tour of the Hillsborough Bay area when they heard a loud bang and the helicopter lost power, the Tampa Police Department said in a statement. The pilot made an emergency landing in the water.

The group was trapped in the helicopter as it was taking on water.

"My dad was able to get the door open. Helicopters fill up very fast, they are not watertight, at least the one we were on, and when the door opened, it filled up even faster," Hupp, 28, said.

Hupp told ABC affiliate WFTS-TV that it only took 10 to 15 seconds for the cabin to fill up with water.

"It's like one of those movies where water slowly fills the room and you take your last breath of air in the inner bubble and you know that was the last breath you were going to take until you get back to the surface," Hupp said.

"I really thought I was going to die in that helicopter."

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hupp was caught under seatbelts and cords. As he struggled, his parents and the pilot were able to make it to the surface safely.

Hupp made one more attempt to free himself and it worked. Hupp estimated he was underwater between 45 seconds to a minute.

At that same time, Buccaneers backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert and his two brothers were cruising nearby on jet skis, checking out from afar some of the sailboats at a yacht club, when they heard a "faint noise" south of Davis Island and rushed toward it.

"I just remember looking to the west and seeing it almost looked like a crew boat in the water that had broken up in about four pieces and I vaguely remember seeing like two yellow life jackets so I was like 'all right, we gotta go check this out,'" Gabbert said Friday at a news conference.

The brothers arrived at the crash to find the sinking helicopter and multiple people in need of saving.

"The youngest kid had just come up and said he was pinned in there and I asked if anyone else was trapped and then I called 911, tried to remain as calm as possible," Gabbert said.

Everyone survived.

FILE - Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (11) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz.
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File

Tampa Bay police Officer Dan Spears said Gabbert and his brothers "had actually just about completed the rescue" when he arrived.

"It was a pretty impressive feat, no doubt," Spears said. "They were very calm - great job on that ... One of the most dangerous circumstances on an aircraft is a water landing just due to the inversion of a helicopter and trying to escape that and not get trapped in, so it was a very amazing circumstance that everybody got out."

Gabbert put two people on his jet ski and his brothers helped a third person. The fourth was helped by authorities.

Gabbert said he raced his jet ski to shore, where the fire department met them.

"I was like, just please hold on tight," he said he told his two riders. "We'll get to the beach quick and get you dried off, get you a coffee and warmed up."

"My mom joked about meeting Tom Brady, and I think she did pretty well. She got to wrap her arms around the next in line," Hupp said.

Tampa Bay police, firefighters, the Coast Guard and marine patrol all responded. Gabbert said they're the real heroes, not him and his brothers.

"I was doing the right thing. You guys would do the exact same thing that I did. I just happened to be in that situation. Thankfully, it all turned out positive," Gabbert said.

Police made Gabbert an honorary member of their marine unit on Friday.

"It's funny how time kind of slows down in those situations," Gabbert said. "I just wanted to get them dry and warm as quickly as possible."

Bucs head coach and former Eagles secondary coach Todd Bowles thought the rescue was "outstanding."

"Any time you can find a guy to drop everything and go help somebody else that he doesn't even know without even thinking about it, and take their life into their own hands and helping somebody else save their lives, that says a lot about the guy," he said. "And Blaine did that."

Hupp's parents got him the helicopter ride as a Christmas gift. Even though the end wasn't ideal, he said they're able to joke about it now.

"My mom joked about meeting Tom Brady, and I think she did pretty well. She got to wrap her arms around the next in line," Hupp said.

Hupp said his father is afraid of heights so it took a lot to get him on the helicopter. He thinks that was his dad's first and last ride.

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.