On Tuesday, a New Orleans family received the confirmation they were dreading: One of two bodies pulled from a plane that went down in Lake Pontchartrain was that of Reginald Hillard Jr., 25. "They said that he was in the plane. I still didn't believe it," his father tells WWLTV. The family is telling a second story, though: one of heroism. They say Hillard saved the life of his girlfriend—the only one of the three aboard to survive the Saturday night flight—by pushing her from the plane. The details are a bit fluid: A family member tells WWLTV Hillard unbuckled Brianna Davis' seatbelt and pushed her out after the Cessna entered the water; relatives tell WDSU he pushed her from the plane before it crashed.
Either way, Davis did enter the lake and was retrieved by a passing yacht and taken to the hospital. The flight, an aerial evening tour of the city, was a birthday surprise Davis arranged for Hillard. WDSU reports the father of three was scared to fly and had never been on a plane, but "he took the challenge," says his cousin. "He's the hero." WDSU reports the plane went down about half a mile from the New Orleans Lakefront Airport, whose director, Ben Morris, says, "It's a very sad thing because she did tell us that she and her boyfriend were holding hands when she slipped out of the aircraft." Morris says the plane hit a rainstorm; the pilot, whose body was found still in his seat, did not request any help. (A plane's parachute helped save the life of a former Walmart CEO in 2015.)