Plane crash survivor, family find new home in Bemidji area, thanks to innovative program

BEMIDJI, Minn. — After a near-fatal plane crash, every day is Thanksgiving for Tony and Sharon Carr. But this year they’re also thankful for a new town, a soon-to-be new home and a relocation program that helped make it all happen.

“We’re always thankful,” said Sharon Carr, who grew up in Bemidji. “It’s definitely fun being back home. There’s no place like Bemidji.”

The Carrs are one of nearly two dozen families that have taken advantage of Greater Bemidji’s 218 Relocate program, which offers incentives to those who move to Bemidji and work remotely. Tony is a geospatial technician for Boeing, creating flight charts for commercial airline pilots. They moved from Denver with their two young daughters in June, and are living with Sharon’s parents until Dec. 14 when they close on their new home.

When Tony learned about 218 Relocate, he did a double-take.

“That was exactly what I was looking for,” Tony said. “My company was not going to reimburse, because it was an optional move. I saw a commercial for it on TV and said, ‘Was this commercial made for me? Was it targeted toward Tony Carr?’ Because this seems like a perfect fit when you’re looking at helping people who are able to telecommute move to the Bemidji area. There also was the draw of the fiber-optic network here.”

A LOVE OF FLYING

Tony grew up in Houston and became interested in aviation at a young age.

He attended Oklahoma State University and earned an aviation science degree while also working as a flight instructor. After graduating in 2008, he was a flight operations intern for Mesaba Airlines, which flew into Bemidji. That’s when he met Sharon.

“He got a jump seat pass on a flight to Bemidji,” she recalled. “For whatever reason, he wanted to see more of Minnesota.”

Sharon was at McDonald’s on a break from work. Tony happened to be at the same place.

“He bumped into me and ended up spilling a drink on me,” she said. Then he asked for her phone number. She said no. Then he asked for her email address.

“He said, ‘Let me just email you. So if you don’t like me, then you don’t have to respond.’ I soon realized he’s such a good writer. So it started off as emails and kind of went from there.”

Tony left Mesaba that summer and he returned to Oklahoma State for flight instruction. For the next two years, they had a long-distance relationship, her in Bemidji and him in Oklahoma.

MOVING EAST, SURVIVING A CRASH

Tony got his first full-time job as a pilot in 2011, delivering cargo for AirNet Systems, a subsidiary of FedEx. Based in Richmond, Va., he made overnight flights up and down the East Coast. Sharon joined him in Virginia, and the couple set a wedding date for December 2011.

On April 11 of that year, everything changed.

Tony’s flight was headed to Charlotte, N.C. As he was taking off from Richmond International Airport, one of his engines quit. The plane crashed back down over the runway. He was knocked unconscious and suffered burns over 60 percent of his body.

Airport fire crews were able to get to Tony quickly. He was taken to the burn unit at Virginia Commonwealth University Hospital. He was kept there a couple of months in a medically induced coma. It was another few months before he could go home.

For the next three years, Tony endured nearly 70 surgeries and all kinds of physical and occupational therapy.

Sharon took care of Tony, getting him to and from appointments and surgeries. They changed their wedding plans and got married on Sept. 10, 2011 in Virginia.

“It was on 9-10-11, so that way you can never forget it,” Sharon said.

DECIDING WHAT’S NEXT

Tony figured he would never be a pilot again, but in 2014 it was time to think about getting back to work.

“I was looking for something where I could stay in aviation but not actually still be working as a pilot,” he said. He found a job compiling aeronautical data from different countries and put it together. He makes the charts and data sets pilots reference when they’re in the cockpit. It is based in Denver.

His schedule was three days a week in the office and two days at home. When the pandemic hit, it changed to remote work permanently.

“That opened up doors to a whole new thought process,” he added. During the summer of 2020, they went to Bemidji for a kind of test run.

“I plugged in and did my work, and we were saying this is something that could work for us,” he said.

Bemidji’s colder climate makes things easier for Tony, whose numerous skin grafts make him susceptible to both hot and cold temperatures. He explained he can always put more clothing on in the cold, but there’s not much defense against the heat. Then there were the trials of living in the city, such as traffic and the high costs of living that were wearing on the couple.

MAKING THE MOVE

He put in a formal request at work to move to Minnesota. He and Sharon, along with their daughters Loralee, 7, and Madalyn, 4, relocated to Bemidji in June of this year. The 218 Relocate program reimbursed the Carrs’ moving expenses.

Now their oldest daughter is enrolled in Northern Elementary, the same school her mother attended. And Tony continues his same job.

“It’s turned out to be great,” Tony said. “I think Bemidji is in a really exciting place. … As telecommuting becomes more common I think the 218 Relocate program is going to be pretty important.

“If people are trying to choose between a couple of towns but this one is going to give them several thousand dollars to help with the move, that’s certainly going to be a positive that could potentially sway them in that direction. It’s paying off for both the city and the individuals who are beneficiaries of that.”

MORE ON 218 RELOCATE

The 218 Relocate program was created by Greater Bemidji Economic Development to attract professionals to the community. The program has attracted more than 20 new individuals and families to the Bemidji area.

The program offers the following benefits to those who perform the majority of their employment duties remotely from a home office or co-working space:

Up to $2,500 in reimbursed moving expenses and/or qualifying telecommuter expenses not already covered by employer/company.
One-year membership to the LaunchPad co-working space in the historic Mayflower Building ($1,500 value).
Free access to the Community Concierge program, connecting individuals and their families to the community.
Teleworking support and tools through Effective Remote Work.
One-year Associate Level membership to the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce ($335 value).

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