This story, originally published Saturday, July 23, 2016, has been updated.

Capt. Christy Wise frantically waved her headlamp flashlight in an attempt to alert the boat jetting toward her to turn away. But the HC-130J rescue squadron pilot, quickly realizeding it was too late and dove as far down as she could to save herself. When she surfaced, she knew the boat’s propeller had severed her right leg. 

Almost a year later, Wise — who thought it would be the end of her pilot career, but now, almost a year later, she is back in the cockpit. , and She flew her first training mission Friday at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, where she is stationed.

She is the first female Air Force leg amputee to return to flight, the service said. Capt. Kristin Nelson, 23rd Bomb Squadron pilot, returned to flight April 30, 2015, after losing her left hand in an accident the year before.  

"I have been blown away with the amount of support I’ve had to ... achieve my goals," Wise told Air Force Times on July 21. 

On April 11, 2015, she and her boyfriend were paddleboarding in a cove near Shalimar, Florida. "When I surfaced I immediately thought, 'Dang it, I should have had a brighter flashlight'," Wise said. But she later learned it was a hit-and-run accident as the boat did not stop or slow down.

Wise’s boyfriend, Tim, and a nearby fisherman from nearby got Wise in the back of the fishing boat and made a tourniquet from a fishing net handle and Tim’s long-sleeve shirt. During her 45-minute ride to a hospital in Pensacola, she thought about her friend and fellow airman, Ryan McGuire, who too lost his leg in a boating accident, but would later return to flying C-17s for the Air Force. 

"If Ryan did it, I can do it," said Wise, who lost her leg above the knee.

She spent eight months in rehabilitation in San Antonio, Texas. Before her first flight was approved, Wise achieved many milestones: She recently passed her physical training test, running — not walking — the 1.5-mile run test in 13.54 minutes.

"My commander here said, 'I can't wait until you pass the PT test because everybody else in the squadron who fails it has no excuse'," she said.

Wise, of the 71st Rescue Squadron, participated in the Wounded Warrior Games in Quantico, Virginia, nine weeks after the accident. She won 11 medals in hand-cycling, swimming, wheelchair racing, swimming and track and field. In May, she competed in the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, in road cycling, running, swimming, cycling, shot put and discuss, among others.

Wise also created One Leg Up on Life, a non-profit organization that distributes prosthetic limbs and cares for children who have had limbs amputated in third world countries. She and a volunteer team visited Haiti in April.

"I was working toward getting back to this old cycle of life," she said.

She still needs to complete a requalifying requirements in the next few weeks syllabus for full-flying status in the next few weeks, and will soon PCS to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona. But by winter, Wise says she will likely be ready to deploy overseas for her second career deployment.  

On Friday, Wise practiced instrument and engine procedures and taxiing. In her second flight, she will conduct mission-oriented procedures for air refueling, airdrop and working with PJs.

Wise completed her eight-month rehabilitation in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo Credit: Courtesy photo

boils down to the

"I've really had to work to build strength in my prosthetic leg because I still have to be required to do the same amount of force on the rudder pedals," Wise said.

"And, anyone who's flown a C-130 will agree that it's a really tricky parking brake ... you have to put a lot of force on the pedal on the toe-brake, and then pull it.

"That was even hard with two legs," she said.

Oriana Pawlyk covers Air Force deployments, cyber, Guard/Reserve, uniforms, physical training, crime, and operations in the Middle East and Europe for Air Force Times. She was the Early Bird Brief editor in 2015. Email her at

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