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Dan Liljenquist rising from ashes of plane crash

Published: Sunday, Jan. 23 2011 10:05 p.m. MST

Dan Liljenquist, a 36-year-old freshman state senator from Davis County, is considered by some as a rising star in Utah politics.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

BOUNTIFUL — "When your engine goes out at 10,000 feet, the thing that I've thought about most is that people think there's screaming. But there was literally nothing — it was dead silent. The only sound was the (rushing air on) the window and the wings, the stuff you never hear."

Dan Liljenquist was one of 14 people aboard a single-engine Cessna flying over Guatemala on Aug. 24, 2008, when its engine died and the plane descended toward jungle.

The words steadily emerge from Liljenquist's mouth with healthy amounts of vocal intonation, but the vacant look in his eyes bespeaks an emotional vulnerability still unhealed.

"The first thing that went through my mind was, 'I'm going to die.' And the next thing was, 'It's OK.' It felt like it was OK to die."

The plane crashed; Liljenquist precariously danced with death and destiny.

Ears ringing. Smell of burnt plastic and gasoline. Blinking eyes into focus. Self-realization of still being alive. Struggling to disembark. Realizing both legs are badly broken, both feet dislocated. Calling for help. One leg catches fire. Pulled from wreckage by two men. Plane explodes. Smell of burning flesh.

Liljenquist survived, but 11 of his fellow passengers didn't.

Now 36 years old and a first-term state senator from Bountiful, Liljenquist limps noticeably. He is never pain-free, will never run or jog again, and has trouble sleeping since the crash. But he lives.

Compelled by an acute and ineffable sense of urgency that his brush with death instilled in him, Dan Liljenquist is a crusading legislator who just might be the fastest-rising star in Utah politics.

Liljenquist was born in Nashville, Tenn., where his father taught at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. The family moved to Idaho Falls when he was 5, and Liljenquist grew up as one of the middle children in a brood of 15 kids (including six adoptees).

"I think part of the best training I have for politics was being seventh of 15 kids," he said. "I never got to dictate anything — anything. It was always negotiation. It was always working in a group of people and trying to get people to understand each individual person's needs and have them kind of meet those needs."

Liljenquist attended BYU on a one-year academic scholarship that was renewable only if he earned a 3.9 GPA. He wanted to pay for his own schooling, and in that respect the scholarship's onerous terms of renewal actually proved to be a boon by propelling him to maintain his GPA above 3.9 throughout all four years of college.

He spliced two years of a Spanish-speaking LDS mission to Texas into his undergraduate studies. Although his father and a couple of brothers are doctors, Liljenquist eschewed medicine for the study of law. During the months between earning an economics degree from BYU in 1998 and enrolling at the prestigious University of Chicago Law School, he married Centerville native Brooke Davies.

Instead of practicing law following graduation from Chicago in 2001, Liljenquist went to work for Mitt Romney's former employer Bain & Company, an internationally renowned global management firm, as a strategy consultant specializing in turning around struggling companies. While with Bain, Liljenquist consulted for distressed multi-million dollar companies in the United States and abroad, seeking out inefficiencies and identifying cost-saving measures.

He moved back to Utah in 2003, working first as director of operational strategy for a division of Affiliated Computer Services, a Fortune 500 company with offices in Sandy. In 2006 Liljenquist joined FOCUS Services, a Roy-based call center where he is president and chief operating officer.

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