Lucky Emerson

DOUBLE World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, who has not raced since he fractured a vertebrae in his neck during a crash at Michigan International Speedway in July 1996, was seriously injured last week when he crashed a light aircraft he was piloting near a citrus fruit farm he owns outside the town of Araraquara in Brazil.

Fifty-year-old Emerson and his six-year-old son Luca had taken off from the farm - which is 150 miles northwest of Sao Paulo on Sunday morning. During the flight the plane's engine stalled and it plunged 300 feet into a swamp. According to crash investigators if the plane had hit solid ground Emerson and his son would have been killed.

When they did not return to the farm on Sunday evening Emerson's wife Teresa telephoned the police. Search parties were sent out and late that night the plane was found with Emerson and his son on top of one of the wings. Emerson suffered a fractured vertebrae in the lower back and partial paralysis in his left leg. Luca was unhurt.

Two days after the crash Emerson was flown to Miami where doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital rebuilt the shattered vertebrae during a five-hour operation. The initial operation was a success and doctors are hopeful that Emerson will regain full mobility although for at least six months he will have to wear a plastic body support.

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