When Kechi Okwuchi took the stage of the popular “America Got Talent” show, not many knew her story. When Simon Cowell, one of the judges, asked her why she was auditioning, her answer was that she was motivated to share her voice. Cowell probed further: “what got you into singing.” Kechi seemed to hesitate before saying, “I was in a plane crash when I was 16 years old, back in Nigeria.”
On December 10, 2005 Sosoliso Airlines Flight 1145 carrying 108 passengers, 60 of them students from Loyola Jesuit College, crashed at Port Harcourt International Airport in Omagwa, Rivers State, Nigeria. The crash eventually claimed every student’s life, save one: Kechi Okwuchi.
The accident occurred during approach to Port Harcourt in adverse weather. Unable to make out the unlit runway through the rain, the captain called for a go around (missed approach) at an altitude of about 200 ft., or approximately 120 ft. above the ground. This call was made about 100 ft. below the “decision altitude.”
It was too late and the aircraft struck the ground, colliding heavily with a concrete drainage culvert, before disintegrating and catching fire.
Kechi was then 16.
She initially received treatment in Johannesburg, South Africa, but in 2007, she was transferred to the United States for specialized treatment.
In 2015, 10 years after surviving the horrific crash, she graduated with First Class Honors from St. Thomas University, Texas, and was inducted into six academic honor societies.
Kechi was the most outstanding student in Economics and also gave the commencement address to the Class of 2015. She would then be accepted into graduate school for her MBA
Kechi has had more than 100 surgeries, including skin grafts in the U.S. as a result of burns all over her body. She revealed that doctors implanted pins to support her hands.
Despite these challenges, she has not stopped reaching for greatness, a determination that saw her move America to tears in the America Got Talent Show.
Kechi gave a powerful and beautiful rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” And all the judges were impressed. Howie Mandel and Simon Cowell gave Kechi a standing ovation, along with the audience. Heidi Klum could not stop her tears from rolling down the cheeks over Kechi’s inspiring performance while Mel B couldn’t move, transfixed by the jaw dropping performance.
As Kechi told the judges: “Music was my escape. And that’s why it means so much to me.”