POLITICS

Holiday heroics earn Alberta man appearance on major U.S. television show

01/26/2012 05:50 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT
Paul Gullackson doesn't believe he did anything special by diving into the water to help rescue a Texas family following a plane crash in the Caribbean Sea.

"I don't think of myself as a hero or anything. It's just something you do," said the 61-year-old home inspector from Cold Lake, Alta.

Gullackson has been swamped with media attention since the rescue on Jan. 11 during his holiday in Honduras.

On Thursday, he taped an interview on Anderson Cooper's daytime talk show in New York City.

"For someone who's never been in the spotlight, it's a little intimidating," Gullackson said from New York after finishing the interview, which is set to air early next week. He's still fielding calls from other talk shows, including The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Gullackson and his cousin Larry Forseth, who owns the Tranquility Bay beach resort, were in a boat preparing to go parasailing near the island of Roatan when an ultralight plane flew low overhead.

The plane had been giving sightseeing tours to local tourists. But one of its engines failed, said Gullackson. "It made a big circle out in the ocean and crashed right in front of us.

"We were in the right place at the right time to be the first responders."

Both men quickly dove into water and swam towards the pilot, a couple and their four-year-old son.

Gullackson said Andy Atkins, a Houston-based lawyer, had hold of his boy, Logan. But the pilot was losing his grip on Jenna Atkins

The unconscious woman was in the most distress, so Gullackson and Forseth rushed to her side to keep her head above the water. But she didn't look like she was even alive — there was foam coming out of her mouth, her eyes had rolled back in her head and her lips were blue.

Luckily, a yacht with two doctors on board was close by and came to help. Gullackson said he helped the plane's occupants get on the ship, and the doctors performed CPR on the woman.

"The doctors probably did more to save her life than I did or Larry did," said Gullackson.

He said it was great being reunited again with the Atkins family on the Anderson talk show.

"We all hugged and there were some tears. They thanked us again and again."

Gullackson believes the reason the event is getting so much attention is because it has a happy ending.

"It could have been a tragic accident," he said. "It's nice to have a happy story once in a while."