Rochester man who survived plane crash spends life in service to others

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – A Rochester man was the sole survivor of a plane crash in China when he was a toddler.  Since then, he has spent his life in Rochester serving others as a Baptist minister, an attorney, a husband, father and a grandfather. 

Robert and Dorothy Vick were commissioned as Baptist missionaries in May of 1944.  They were determined to spread the word of God in China, “as soon as the war ended, plans were made,” says their son Paul.  In December of 1946, Robert, Dorothy, and their two young sons Teddy and Paul, traveled from Rochester to California where they boarded a ship for China. 

Once the family made it to Shanghai, they needed to get to a more remote village in Western China where their missionary work would begin. “At that time there were limited ways of moving about China, the infrastructure just wasn’t there and remember, they were in the middle of a war between the communists and the nationalist Chinese,” Paul Vick says.

The only real option was to take a small plane through the China National Aviation Corporation, “these planes were really converted cargo planes that they were using,” Vick explains.  On January 28, 1947, the family occupied four of the twenty eight seats on board a doomed C-146, “I believe it was the left engine that caught fire and the wing blew out,” Vick says.

Most of what Vick knows about the story from this point, comes from the farmers who saw the plane coming down. “The plane was on fire and so, somehow the cargo door was open and things began to fall out,” he explains and then in those fateful seconds during the free-fall, his parents made a choice, “my father had a hold of me, and my mother had a hold of my brother, there were no parachutes or anything, but if you stayed on that plane you were gonna burn alive so, they just jumped,” Vick says. 

Villagers who had run to help, found Paul wrapped in Robert’s arms, laying in a cotton field. “My father must have just cushioned me because he took the brunt of the fall,” Vicks says.  Both father and son were rushed to a Catholic Mission site for help and then transported by boat to a hospital nine miles away. “I had two broken legs, I had partial paralysis of my face and side and I had abrasions and that was it,” Vick says of his injuries. 

Paul Vick spent two months in that Chinese hospital recovering.  Tragically, Robert Vick only made it two days. “He was aware of what had happened, aware that his wife and other son had died, but his first and only thought was my protection and he wanted to make sure that I would be brought home to his parents, here in Rochester,” Vick says. 

Robert Vick’s wishes were granted.  Paul Vick was the youngest sole survivor of a commercial plane crash ever and he was brought home to Rochester with much fanfare to live with his grandparents. 

Growing up, Vick wanted to learn more about his own story.  He took two trips back to China to retrace his parent’s steps. “Over time I began to see the impact that their lives had on others, before they went into the mission field and as a result of what had happened on the mission field,” he tells News10NBC. 

Since then, he’s worked his whole life to have a similar impact on others.  As a Baptist Minister with the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, he has traveled the world to reach people and as a local attorney, a philanthropist, a husband and grandfather, he continues to touch lives every day. “For me, that’s been a life long journey, understanding what gifts have been embedded in me and how can I use those gifts to help others become all that they can become,” Vick says.

See the book Paul Vick recently wrote and published about his experience here