Local pilot honored for brave rescue attempt

CANBERRA, Australia John Ryan, 56, of Houston, received severe burns to his head, arms and head in the crash that killed a passenger who was evaluating Ryan for an Australian aviation license. Ryan tried saving the man, 67, but the badly burned flying examiner died at the scene.

Ryan said he felt "very honored" to receive the Bravery Medal, Australia's third highest civilian bravery award. He told The Associated Press he only received medical clearance last week to return to work.

"I've had an awesome amount of surgery," Ryan said Friday, ahead of the award announcement. "For five years and one month, it's been a full-time job to recover from this."

The accident was blamed on the failure of one of the Beechcraft Duchess' twin engines during takeoff at Camden airport.

Ryan was one of two American winners of Australian bravery awards Monday. The other was Robert Cook, a 22-year-old Missouri skydiving instructor who died two years ago protecting an Australian passenger in a 2006 plane crash.

Australia awarded Cook the Star of Courage, the country's second highest civilian bravery award. Cook is one of the few foreigners to win an award for an act of bravery outside Australia in the 33-year history of the Australian honors system.

Cook was one of six people killed when their plane nose dived shortly after taking off from an eastern Missouri airport. The family of 21-year-old Australian Kimberley Dear, one of only two survivors of the crash, hailed Cook a hero who saved her life.

Cook, an experienced instructor, was to make a tandem skydive with Dear but the plane's engine malfunctioned shortly after takeoff.

He clipped his skydive harness to hers, demanding that she wrap herself around him so his body cushioned hers when they crashed, the award citation said. He acted as "a human shield to protect her" on impact.

"Having entirely understood the implications of his actions, and as a result of his selfless courage, the woman, although seriously injured in the crash, survived the impact," the citation said.

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