In 1978, Jim Serven was just 15, living in the Los Angeles area, when he was the only survivor among the four passengers aboard a small plane — a 1976 Grumman American Cheetah. It was piloted by one of his 17-year-old friends. A storm approached way faster than expected. Serven had a compound leg fracture and dislocated hip, and then frostbite set into his foot.
Jim Serven’s survival story is told in this Feb. 23, 2015, story by Shad Powers of The Desert Sun newspaper of Palm Springs and Coachella Valley (some registration may be necessary).
Jim recovered from the injuries and the loss of young friends. He went on to fatherhood and a long teaching career, with stints coaching basketball, baseball and (currently) softball at the high school level in California. His three children became strong athletes themselves. Jonathan played baseball at Long Beach State (and was a teammate of the Rockies’ Garrett Hampson) and has entered teaching. Brian played at Arizona State and was a Rockies fifth-round pick in the 2016 Draft. His daughter, Kristina, was a multi-sport athlete in high school and is a student at Arizona State.
Jim Serven believes his story can inspire the young people he teaches.
The story sure has inspired Brian Serven. The injuries left one of Jim Serven’s legs shorter than the other, but he stands quite tall to his son.
“Mainly, no matter what you go through, you’ve got to respond to it and make the most of it,” Serven said. “When that happened to him, they told him he wasn’t going to be able to walk again, that the leg was probably going to be amputated. He and my late grandma said, ‘No, we’re not entertaining that.’
“He was 15 or 16, so he wasn’t totally sure. But he went with what his parents, my grandparents, said. He was able to walk again after the doctor said he never would. He was able to play sports again after the doctor told him he never would.”
Any decision to fly is not easy for the Servens.
“We drove from Southern California to Cooperstown, N.Y., for [a major youth] tournament,” Brian Serven said. “The only time I remember we flew was to Hawaii for a basketball tournament my dad was coaching.”
While his dad brings up his story to students when they need it, he doesn’t talk much about it at home, Brian Serven said. But he knows what his dad lived, and draws inspiration even when the words aren’t spoken.
“It was always something, when I was younger, in the back of my mind,” Serven said. “I mean, he made it through a plane crash. A lot of things that I’ve dealt with, challenges that I’ve had throughout my life, have not been nearly what he had to deal with. It’s always something that’s there in the background.”
“It’s not something that was really talked about much at our house. You know, they come to visit me in college and professional baseball, and it wasn’t a topic of conversation. But it’s something that I could always look back on or think about when I was going through something tough.”
Serven discussed his career and his father in a taped interview for the pregame show on the KOA Rockies Radio Network, “Rockies On Deck,” to run before Wednesday morning’s game against the Pirates. The interview was with Rockies broadcaster Jerry Schemmel, himself a survivor of the 1989 United Flight 532 crash.