Olympian Gardner survives small plane crash

Olympian Gardner survives small plane crash

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Olympic wrestling champion Rulon Gardner lost a toe to frostbite after being lost in the wilderness, impaled himself with an arrow and was involved in a serious motorcycle accident.

In his latest escape from death, he survived a plane crash over the weekend into the aptly named Good Hope Bay on the Utah-Arizona border.

"I think I'm really lucky," Gardner told CNN on Monday, "after everything I have been through."

Gardner and two Utah brothers were rescued by a fisherman Sunday after swimming more than an hour in 44-degree water and spending the night without shelter.

None suffered life-threatening injuries, authorities said.

"It takes only about 30 minutes for someone swimming in 44-degree water to start suffering the effects of hypothermia, so the fact that they swam in it for an hour, not to mention surviving the plane crash and the night without fire or shelter, is pretty amazing," said Steven Luckesen, a district ranger at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. "If these guys were a cat with nine lives, they just used up three of them."

Since delivering one of the great Olympic upsets at the 2000 Sydney Games, the 35-year-old Gardner has had a history of harrowing escapes.

In 2002, he became stranded while snowmobiling in the Wyoming and lost a toe. Then in 2004, he was struck by an automobile while riding a motorcycle. Back in third grade, he punctured his abdomen with an arrow at a class show-and-tell.

The lesson, Gardner said, is "hopefully teach people to be smarter about the choices they make."

In his latest brush, Gardner was a passenger in a Cirrus SR 22 with pilot Randy Brooks and brother Leslie. They were looking at a houseboat from the air when the plane dipped into the water, Garfield County public information officer Becki Bronson said.

"The plane went from 150 mph to none in about 2 seconds," Gardner told CNN.

Authorities were uncertain of the exact location of the crash and were investigating the cause.

The three men made it to shore and spent the night without shelter, officials said. Gardner and the brothers called a relative to take them for medical attention in American Fork.

"Miraculously, the three sustained no life-threatening injuries, mainly suffering from hypothermia injuries to their feet," Garfield County authorities said in a statement.

Gardner stunned the Olympics seven years ago when he earned the gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling by ending Alexander Karelin's 13-year international winning streak. In 2004 in Athens, Gardner won the bronze medal, and in wrestling tradition, left his shoes on the mat as a symbolic way of announcing his retirement.

In 2004, Gardner was on a motorcycle and going to wrestling practice when he crashed in Colorado Springs, Colo. He sustained no serious injuries even though he went over the top of his handlebars after his bike collided with a car. Gardner came away with abrasions to his left side and a sore right heel.

In grade school, he injured himself with an arrow while his parents were out of town. He was taken to the emergency room and a doctor said Gardner had just missed puncturing a vital organ.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-02-26-07 1016MST

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