Nick Mulcahy

March 14, 2014

Hollywood, Florida — Crystal Denlinger, MD, from the Fox Chase Cancer Center, in Philadelphia, is one very committed cancer researcher.

Dr. Denlinger, 38, survived a plane crash on Thursday evening. Not to be waylaid, she summoned the courage to board another plane 6 hours later at midnight and attended a cancer conference in the morning here in Florida.

Dr. Crystal Denlinger

Dr. Denlinger was one of 149 passengers on the US Airways flight 1702 that crashed on a Philadelphia airport runway last night at 6 PM after taking flight for a brief time, according to passenger accounts.

Before exiting the plane's cabin by the emergency door exit, Dr. Denlinger grabbed her backpack. She then zoomed down the inflatable slide.

"[My backpack] had my laptop with my presentations," she told Medscape Medical News in an interview.

The pack also had her cell phone, which she needed to call her mother, who was in the hospital with complications related to knee surgery. Dr. Denlinger had cancelled an earlier flight to the conference because of her mother's status.

With the pack firmly on her back, she tucked the hard copy of one of her presentations under her arm; it included extra, hand-written notes that she had made minutes earlier.

Dr. Denlinger was on her way to Fort Lauderdale to attend the annual meeting of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) to make multiple presentations on survivorship — of cancer.

The flight never got very far.

"We lifted off the ground and we were in the air; then the plane took a dive, nose first," she told Medscape Medical News.

Then the plane took a dive, nose first.

The plane then tried to reascend. "We sort of bounced and I remember thinking, 'We are going to try this again," she said.

As it turns out, one of the plane's tires blew out and the front landing gear subsequently collapsed, according to a report online.

Two passengers were sent to the hospital, according to another news report.

The plane finally came to a rest on the end of an airport runway.

"I don't feel like it was that big a deal because we weren't that far off the ground," she said. "God forbid if we had been farther off the ground."

The passengers' exit from the plane was chaotic. Initially, the plane's first officer instructed the passengers to "stay in their seats," said Dr. Denlinger. The flight attendants told some passengers that the plane had blown a tire, which was now smoking.

However, according to Dr. Denlinger, a passenger in the back of the cabin yelled "Fire" when the cabin started to faintly smell of smoke. Passengers started screaming.

Exit doors were quickly opened by the passengers. Dr. Denlinger was one of the first to exit because she was sitting in the emergency exit aisle.

She performed the service of making sure the door was laid to the side so that fellow passengers could exit unobstructed. The first passenger off the plane, before sliding away via the chute, handed the door to Dr. Denlinger.

An NCCN Foundation Young Investigator awardee from 2012, Dr. Denlinger presented a poster this afternoon — on adherence to NCCN survivorship guidelines in lung and colorectal cancer patients. A medical oncologist, she specializes in gastric cancer. She is also panel chair of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology for Survivorship.

She then gave a talk later in the day on the use of surveillance in cancer survivors.

She looked remarkably fresh for having survived a plane crash, which included standing outside in the airport fields for 45 minutes while buses were rounded up to shuttle the passengers back to the airport terminal. The temperature was below freezing and there were high winds, she said.

Passengers, many of whom were dressed in short-sleeve shirts in anticipation of warm Florida weather, huddled together to keep warm.

Back at the airport, US Airways gave the passengers access to the Admiral Club and its bar.

Airline food was promised and eventually served: "It was those little snack boxes with crackers — that's it."

After the crash, Dr. Denlinger spoke with Mark Geisler, an NCCN meeting official, by phone. He offered to provide her with a WebEx hookup to make her oral presentation without having to travel. She declined.

Shortly after midnight, many of the passengers got on another flight.

Remarkably, Dr. Denlinger was seated in the emergency exit aisle again.

She sat next to a Catholic priest. "I thought maybe that was a good sign."

My mom taught us to honor our commitments.

The flight arrived without incident at about 3 AM in Fort Lauderdale.

"My mom taught us to honor our commitments," Dr. Denlinger said.


National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) 19th Annual Conference.


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