Private Project

29 Years, A Second Chance at Life

After marrying the love of his life and with a baby on the way, Robert Hymel volunteers to serve his country as a B-52 pilot during the Vietnam War. This decision forever changes the course of Bob’s life. His B-52 “ASH I” is hit by a pair of surface-to-air missiles over Hanoi, North Vietnam the day after Christmas, 1972. The crew nurses the severely damaged plane back to Utapao, Thailand where they crash on landing. Bob is rescued from the burning wreckage, recovers from his injuries, and completes a long career with the Air Force.

Haunted by the memory of the ASH I crew killed in the crash; Bob joins the Defense Intelligence Agency as a civilian. He finds himself in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Fate catches up to him when, 29 years after surviving the crash of ASH I, he is the only person with ties to the U.S. Air Force who is killed when the airliner, hijacked by terrorists, slams into the Pentagon on that tragic day.

  • Steve Saunders
    Louisiana - The Thousand Year Flood
  • David Salzberg
    The Hornet's Nest, Citizen Soldier, Above the Best
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    44 minutes 29 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    December 23, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    15,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Flatwater Film Festival
    Seward, Nebraska
    United States
    October 16, 2021
  • San Diego International Film Festival
    San Diego, California
    United States
    October 16, 2021
  • Veteran's Torchlight Event
    Tallahassee, Florida
    United States
    November 1, 2021
  • Veteran's Day - SAC Museum
    Ashland, Nebraska
    United States
    November 11, 2021
  • Gasparilla International Film Festival
    Tampa, Florida
    United States
    March 12, 2022
  • Veteran's Service
    Sarasota, Florida
    United States
    February 27, 2022
Director Biography - Steve Saunders

Steve Saunders owns Great Plains Visual Productions, LLC, a media production company specializing in creation of documentaries, human interest, educational, and special events content. A skilled videographer, photographer, writer, and editor, he provides expertise and support to corporations, government agencies, organizations, and individuals to meet their video, photographic, and aerial imaging needs.

Mr. Saunders is a retired U.S. Army Major General and Federal Senior Executive with significant experience working with senior officials internationally and at the Federal, state, and local levels. When deployed to Kosovo, he produced a video Truth of the Heart which was used to help reduce ethnic tensions in the province.

His early career includes commercial radio and television news experience. As a radio and television news reporter, he covered local, regional, and national news events. He co-produced a series of stories about corruption at a county home that received an Iowa Press Association award for investigative journalism.

As a corporate public and media relations expert, he provided video, print, employee communications and special events support to a major public utility. His video production, Tornado Strikes Neal Four won a national award from the Public Utility Communicator’s Association and was used to help reduce insurance costs after a tornado strike at a large electric generating station. He also provided photographic and video documentation of several accidents and incidents that supported the utility company’s legal, safety, and insurance activities.

While working at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he co-produced a variety of video and print products to support disaster operations, employee training, and personnel recruitment. In 2019, He co-produced a major informational video, Louisiana, the Thousand Year Flood which has been used by Federal, state, and local officials to learn about best practices in disaster recovery operations.

Since establishing Great Plains Visual Productions, he produced 29 Years…A Second Chance at Life, a 2020 documentary that spans the life of Robert Hymel, a B-52 co-pilot from his heroic rescue out of the burning wreckage of his battle-damaged aircraft near the end of the war in Vietnam to Hymel’s tragic death in the 9/11 terror attack on the Pentagon.

MG (Ret) Saunders holds two Master of Science degrees; one in strategic studies from the U. S. Army War College, and one in administrative studies & human resources from the University of South Dakota. His Bachelor of Science degree in broadcasting and business is from Minnesota (Mankato) State University. He completed the U.S. - Russia Security Program at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government as well as post-graduate studies in counterterrorism at the Lauder School of Government in Herzilya, Israel. He is an FAA certified small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) commercial pilot. He is also certified by the Society of Human Resource Management as a Senior Professional, Human Resources (SPHR).

Steve and his wife, Connie reside in Omaha, Nebraska

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Director Statement

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that coincidences have meaning and that we are all connected in some way. Creation of 29 Years, A Second Chance at Life crystalized that thought for me. What started out as an introduction to new friends led to learning about Robert Hymel’s life through his widow, Pat Hymel Lipinski. Bob’s second chance at life is unique, his death ironic, and his story and the story of the other heroes involved is captivating.

When Pat told me that Bob was rescued from the burning wreckage of his battle-damaged B-52 in 1972 and that he lost his life in the terror attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, I was hooked. She told me that nothing had come of an attempt to create a movie about his life. I knew that none of those involved were getting any younger and I told Pat that we should at least get both her and the other’s stories recorded.

As I said, I believe that coincidences have meaning. I am a retired U.S. Army Major General, Bob was a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. I met Pat through mutual friends from my last military assignment in Washington, D.C., Bob’s bomber group was part of the Strategic Air Command headquartered just south of Omaha, Nebraska. I am originally from the Omaha area and live in that city now. By researching Bob’s story and conducting the interviews, what started as a simple attempt to capture Bob’s story for Pat ended up with my being compelled to create this documentary.

29 Years is not a Hollywood production. It comes from the heart. I hope that it does justice to Hymel family and to all of those who were part of this remarkable story.