Cleburne plane crash survivor details struggle with PTSD - Dallas News |

Cleburne man and plane crash survivor details struggle with PTSD

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A Cleburne man who survived a plane crash said he's still haunted by the memory and continues to struggle with the effects.

Joe Rustenhaven said he's suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for the last 14 years.

"PTSD is to me like a gorilla that you drag around with you all day long and all night and if you stop, then the gorilla drags you down," he said.

Doctors said it's not from his time as a Marine, but from a business trip gone horribly wrong. Rustenhaven was on board American Airlines flight 1420 heading from DFW International Airport to Little Rock, Arkansas on June 1, 1999.

"Just totally out of control. We were going wing to wing," he said.

The plane was landing in severe storms, when it overran the runway, broke into several pieces and burst into flames.

"The horror scene… people's heads on fire in front of you and the screaming," he said.

Rustenhaven's recollection remains vivid.

"There was fire behind us, the cabin was filling with smoke," he said.

He fought to escape and made it, but to this day Rustenhaven said being around too many people scares him. He hears voices, sees things crawling, doesn't fly in planes or take long drives.

"Car horns, anything that I'm not prepared for, gets me," he said.

Several years ago he stopped seeing doctors and taking medication. He now focuses on staying busy, keeping his mind occupied, and his wife, Mary, of 54 years.

Rustenhaven hopes his book "Flight 1420: The crash: Living with PTSD" shows how bad the condition can be.

"People just don't understand what PTSD is. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, I really wouldn't," he said.

He said he's now glad he survived the crash, even though there was a time he wasn't. And while every day with PTSD gets better, he said what a doctor once told him has proved true so far.

"When this happened to me he said you are not going to outlive it. It will outlive you," Rustenhaven said.

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