How often do you think about life and death? Personally, I really think I am going to outlive just about everybody. I don’t like visiting retirement homes, even though my mom lives in one. But, once in a while I reflect on just how tenuous my place is here on this planet. I had that opportunity in January.
Don and Dawn died in their CJ.
We weren’t close friends, but Patty and I spent time with them at various Citation Jet Pilot’s events. They were friendly and outgoing. Seemingly always smiling. The kind of folks you like to be around.
They departed mid-morning from Salt Lake City (KSLC), after an event. According to partial audio recordings, Don reported an autopilot failure in IMC conditions with light rain and asked departure control for a vector to better weather. Soon thereafter, a “mayday” call. The aircraft debris was spread over a mile of snow-covered terrain.
I was stunned as I listened to the audio of Don struggling for control of the airplane. Was it instrument failure? Was he presented with confusing altitude or pitch information? What were the last seconds like? Over and over, I wondered what I would have done in the same situation.
We are cautioned not to speculate. As pilots, we are supposed to be professional. To wait a full year for the official NTSB report. But we are human. We reach out to others and offer opinions. And in this case, knowing the victims made it personal. Patty was strangely quiet as I tried to explain to her what had happened.
As I speculated.
Let’s face it. No matter how often we train, flying can be dangerous. And although more people probably die driving to the airport than flying from it, a plane crash always seems to get national attention.
My mind flashed back to 1974 when my father’s partner died in his Bonanza and how that event changed my business and personal life. I thought about how Don and Dawn’s families would be changed forever.
I have always wondered why a total stranger will get in an airplane with me, ride facing backwards in moderate turbulence at 41,000 feet, sit quietly as I descend through icing conditions and shoot an approach to minimums, and then criticize my driving on the way home from the airport.
Then it struck me that I needed to go flying. And for no good reason at all, I drove to the airport, carefully preflighted my airplane, and flew in the clear, morning skies to Shreveport.
Where am I going with all of this?
I have no idea. I just need to talk about it.