And it’s only November …
This particular winter started, as near as I can tell, about the end of July, when Gerry Beck was killed in a landing accident at Oshkosh. Then, three pilots – Steve Dari, Brad Morehouse, and Gary Hubler – died in crashes at the Reno Air Races. Most recently, pilot Phil Kibler and skydivers Ralph Abdo,Landon Atkin, Michelle Barker, Casey Craig, Cecil Elsner, Bryan Jones, Hollie Rasberry, Jeff Ross, Andrew Smith were killed when their Cessna Caravan crashed in the Cascade Mountains.
Beck was a friend of two very dear friends of mine, Morehouse died about a hundred yards in front of me, Kibler was a friend and student of one of my closest friends and colleagues, and I’d even logged time in N430A on more than one occasion.
None of that matters, at least not much. The aviation world is small enough that nobody ever seems to be more than a degree or two of separation from anyone else – when a pilot is lost, it’s uncommon to not be able to find some connection. While those connections inevitably make incidents like these a little more personal – I’m the first to confess that I react a bit differently to the news of an airplane crash than I might to some other tragedy, all else being equal – of course the losses of life aren’t suddenly more tragic just because I find myself somehow connected to all of them.
So, we mourn a bit, more for some than others, then square our jaws and steel our gazes and try to learn from it – most pilots will shamelessly beg, borrow, or steal whatever lessons they can from the misfortune (or even near-misfortune) of anyone else. In that vein, then, you could call it continuing education in risk management. Or you could simply call it coping; regardless, it beats the alternative, railing helplessly against Fate or what have you, insisting that these things just shouldn’t happen.
But that doesn’t change the fact that we wish they didn’t.
One incident like those I’ve mentioned is too many. More than one, five in an as many months in this case, then, is … what? More than too many? I don’t know, but here’s hoping that this long, cold, and lonely winter, as it were, lets up.
Now, anyone who looks to this site for the odds and / or sods that I publish hereon with a frequency greater than, say, hexannually, may have noticed that it has been utterly silent since my prologue at Reno in September. If there were any among you that were unusually charitable, you might say that it’s simply been carefully preserved in that time, but my writing doesn’t tend to attract the charitable.
Some of you, in reading this piece, might surmise that there is a connection between this unusually tragic flying season and my unblemished recent history of failing to publish.
There isn’t. At least not in any kind of direct or tangible way.
This series of crashes does, however, serve loosely (and, perhaps, with unintentionally poor taste on my part) as a sort of public-facing metaphor for the things that have held my attention lately. Tumult, upheaval, chaos … all of it very, very personal, and none of it, thank goodness, ending anywhere nearly as tragically as the crashes I’ve used as such callous and costly euphemisms.
I don’t stay away lightly, or haven’t in this case, anyway, but life came first. As it sometimes needs to, and always should.
Which brings me to my first, and likely only point: I’m not a relativist, at least not when compared to the next guy, but once in a while it’s perfectly acceptable to stop, take a breath, and let the phrase "it could have been worse" provide my oft-mentioned "quantum of solace".
Okay. So, things in my world could have been worse. Much worse. But they weren’t. Now what?
It’s obligatory, certainly, but, first, I’ll dig some clichés out of the closet, blow the dust off, and begrudgingly admit that they’ve lasted this long for a reason: "Life is short", "Carpe Diem", "Family comes first", "Each day is a gift", "Buy low, sell high", etc., etc., etc.
Next, as the coming day slides into what I now refer to as "our" or "American" Thanksgiving, given the number of people close to me that celebrate it in Canada a month "early", I’ll be a little extra grateful for friends, family, health, red wine and brown gravy. And even more than those things (even, I daresay, the gravy), I’ll be grateful for the fact that … none of it was worse.
And finally, I’ll stand up, shake it off, and get back to it. Enough is enough.
Yes, it’s been a long cold lonely winter … but it’s a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder. Here comes the sun and the Sun King. Good day, sunshine, good morning, good morning. Take a sad song and make it (I’ve got to admit it’s getting) better there beneath the blue suburban skies somewhere in the black mountain hills of Dakota … well, you get the idea.
P.S. As I was finishing this and getting ready to throw it over the wall, a friend sent around a link to a news story about two airplanes involved in a mid-air collision about 30 minutes south of here. One airplane landed at a nearby airport, the other went into the water … but everyone is okay.
What do you know? It could have been worse.