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She was in a horrific plane crash 20 years ago. Now, she's overcoming fear to fly again

Twenty years ago at Clinton National Airport, 11 people died in a fiery plane crash. Now, one woman who hasn't been on a plane since is overcoming her fear of flying.

It is hard to believe it was 20 years ago when American Airlines Flight 1420 overshot the runway at Clinton National Airport and crashed just 50 feet from the Arkansas River.

On June 1, 1999, 11 people including a pilot died in the crash. Miraculously 134 people survived.

"I thought we were dead, I was holding my girls' hands and thought that was it," Stephanie Moen said.

Moen was one of the 134 people that survived that ill-fated flight, along with her two young daughters Emily and Lauren.

Before the plane ever left the tarmac in Dallas bound for Little Rock, Moen felt in her gut that something was terribly wrong.

"I got on there, got [my daughters] buckled in and sat down and didn't feel right," she said. "I felt like something was wrong and prayed for God to watch over which I never did because I wasn't afraid to fly before."

She still has the boarding pass from that day; a partially burnt reminder of a life-altering event.

The captain, Richard Bushmann, attempted landing at the airport during a powerful thunderstorm, but he overshot the runway. The National Transportation Safety Board later determined the plane's spoilers were never deployed.

"We started going down, we got onto the runway and I thought, 'Okay, we've touched down,'" Moen recalled. "And we weren't stopping and I could tell we were sliding."

Then there was a loud crash, followed by crunching. Moen said she could hear the metal and rocks hitting.

The plane hit a rock embankment, crashed into a light structure, split in half and caught on fire.

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"It was just an eerie silence for a minute and then all of a sudden it was like you woke up in this nightmare of a movie," Moen said.

People were in a panic. Moen was surrounded by the cries of other passengers as she tried to make sure her two daughters were safe.

"There was a gentleman in the aisle on the ground begging me not to step on him," said Moen, who was carrying her Emily and holding Lauren's hand at the time.

Another man helped Lauren leave the destroyed plane while her and Emily slid down the wing of the plane. They landed in a swamp filled with jet fuel.

Her daughters weren't injured in the crash, but she was left with a lacerated liver, chemical burns on her legs, back and knee injuries.

But she was also saddled with something else that night that lived inside her for 20 years.

"It was definitely PTSD," Moen said. "Planes were something I didn't even want to approach. It wasn't even a consideration for me."

Moen developed what is called aerophobia, an intense fear of flying. But she wanted to confront that fear. Twenty years is too long to be held captive by one moment.

A few months ago, her father died in Arizona. It crushed her to know that she didn't have the strength to get on a plane to visit him before he passed away.

"I just knew that once that happened with my dad, I had to change something," she said.

Moen asked us to accompany her on the flight to "hold her accountable." She didn't want to back out. We boarded a Beechjet 400, owned by a local businessman, along with pilots Bobby Gilliam and Drew Williams. Moen also invited a close friend along for emotional support.

"The that it's been 20 years is crazy," Moen said. "I don't want that restriction and that weighing me down anymore."

Credit: KTHV
Stephanie covers her eyes as she takes her first flight in 20 years.

When the plane began to taxi before takeoff, Moen is clearly uneasy. The pilot would wait until she ready. Moen shared in that moment she felt she was doing something wrong.

But that moment passed and the plane took off, heading towards Fayetteville.

Panic set in as the plane landed, but Moen said that "at the same time it was freeing letting it go."

We took a short break before heading back to Little Rock. The second flight began with less emotion and less fright. The plane landed in Little Rock without issue and afterwards she thanked the pilots for a safe trip.

"Knowing that I had people here and they were doing it for me and helping me with it definitely made me push through it even more," Moen said.

The 20-year fear and trauma slowly faded away from Moen's memory of that fateful night in June near the Arkansas River.

"The further and further we get out from it, the more I realize it just was something that happened and it's something that's gonna control my life," Moen said. "And I haven't let it other than the flying aspect, but today I broke that."

Her mother still lives in Arizona and she plans to book a flight very soon to go visit her.

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