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'He felt trapped': Parents of UND student killed in plane crash push for more mental health help for pilots

In a letter left for his parents after his suicide, John Hauser wrote that life is not worth living if he could not fly.

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GRAND FORKS — 19-year-old John Hauser's career as a pilot was just taking off, but the sophomore at the University of North Dakota was flying in the sky with a deep secret.

The aviation student from Chicago was depressed.

He would take his life on his final flight.

Growing up, John Hauser had a love for transportation.

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"He would take his blocks and he would build replicas of the L-Train here in Chicago ... for a long-time he wanted to be a Chicago bus driver," recalled his father, Alan Hauser.

John Hauser then took off with a new passion. Anytime he got onto an airplane, he would stick a Go-Pro on the window of the plane so he could study landings.

"He knew from the time he was in eighth grade he wanted to be a commercial pilot," Alan Hauser said.

He started working when he was 14 to save for his pilot's license, which he obtained before he started at the University of North Dakota.

He was impressed with the program and number of planes, giving him plenty of opportunities to fly. But his flight on Oct. 18 would forever change his family and the university.

"We were eating dinner and, as John would do, he texted us to say he had a flight," recalled his mother Anne Hauser.

She told her son she loved him. A short time later, John's parents, girlfriend and friends all received text messages.

"Basically saying goodbye to us, he loved us, some contact information for his roommate, the airport, his tail number," Anne Hauser said.

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An hour later, his crashed plane was found in a farm field by Buxton.

The young man seemed to have everything in life. He was chasing his dream, he had good grades, a girlfriend and was a member of a fraternity.

"He did leave behind several letters to us and his friends in which he explained had been struggling for some time that and he felt trapped," Alan Hauser said.

John Hauser's parents say not one person had any indication their son was depressed, including them. They are physicians with training in psychiatry.

"He spelled it out quite clearly to us in his letters that he wanted to get help, but he felt that he would have to give up flying if he got help. In his words, he said life, for him, was not worth living if he could not fly," Alan Hauser said.

John Hauser also made a request in one of those letters.

"'If you can do anything for me, try to change the FAA rules so that other young pilots don't have to go through what I went through,'" Alan Hauser recalled.

Days after his death, his parents launched the John A. Hauser Mental Health in Aviation Initiative Fund .

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The fund has two main goals: In the short term, give aviation students across the country wiggle room to seek mental help. Right now, a trip to see a counselor or doctor could cost you your pilot's license. The long term goals are to work with the Federal Aviation Administration to make it easier for students to seek help and include it in the curriculum.

Those first steps were discussed this week when UND hosted the first-of-its-kind summit — a virtual meeting with industry, government, academic leaders and students.

"He can't be alone," Anne Hauser said. "We know there are likely other aviation students and students in general who are suffering."

The Hauser's are hoping their tragedy can create change.

"It's really what we have, and that's how his memory will be carried on." Anne Hauser said. "If we save the life of another student pilot or another pilot who is working, that would mean everything to us, would have meant everything to John."

In the coming days, WDAY News will be sitting down with the Bob Kraus, Dean of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences at UND, to talk about what changes may be coming to the program there, and how they will help lead the way nationally.

Related Topics: UNIVERSITY OF NORTH DAKOTA
Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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