I spent the early morning hours today catching up on the story of Nie Nie. Her sister, Courtney, has done a fabulous job blogging about Stephanie and Christian’s recovery and her feelings and experiences related to the crash. Stephanie and Christian have four beautiful children, all under the age of eight and Courtney has brought them all to her home in Utah while their parents recover. I can’t imagine going from a family of three (her baby boy is just a few months old) to a family of seven, even with the help of such a wonderful extended family. My heart goes out to their family.
Reading about the plane crash, I immediately thought how lucky I am to even be here. My father had a single engine plane about 15 years ago. I used to fly with him quite often, for fun and for work. We flew over the St. Louis area during the floods of 1993 and 1994 and the bird’s eye view brought home just how devastating the flooding was. We flew to his satellite office in Tennessee. We flew to Peoria to visit John’s family. We flew up to Michigan and then accross Lake Michigan to Wisconsin to visit extended family. I thought it was a fun, fast way to get around.
And then one time we flew to a job site in Kentucky. Dad had never obtained his instrument rating, which meant he couldn’t fly at night or through clouds since he had to rely on visual observations as opposed to instruments. He was a very cautious flier, though, and didn’t really feel that those conditions were the right ones for him anyways. He confined his flights to calm, sunny days, cancelling many trips when the weather conditions weren’t perfect. On this flight, though, we hit an unexpected storm as we flew over Kentucky. We tried to fly up over the clouds quickly, but went through them for a few, scary, moments. When we were close to the small airport we were landing at, we found a break in the clouds and flew into the storm. It was bad and our little plane was like a feather to those strong winds. We dropped, we bumped, and we fought our way towards the small town we had planned to land at. My dad called the airport to get information concerning the current conditions, but it was currently an un-manned strip, with just a paved runway and a windsock to guide the pilots. He attempted to land. I gripped the door of the plane, letting go for a moment to swipe the microphone away from my mouth so that my dad couldn’t hear my whimpering. As we approached the runway, the nose of the plane was being pushed towards “ten o’clock” even though we were flying towards “twelve o’clock” and my dad had to pull up and head up into the storm again. I was flooded with relief – somehow, being in the tumultuous air felt safer than even attempting to land. We flew towards Lexington and called the airport tower for permission to land. Their air traffic controllers turned us away, though, saying the storm was too intense for us to land there. They sent us to Louisville and called ahead to let them know we were coming. We circled the Louisville airport a couple times until they let us land. I looked out the window as we came down and saw a huge jet sitting on the runway, waiting on our little four-seater plane to get out of the way. It made me laugh and gave us something to giggle about as we avoided thinking about what could have happened that day.
I was just twenty-one when Dad bought the plane and I didn’t think twice about going up with him for the two to three years he had it. He was my dad, after all. He had always kept me safe. After the Kentucky trip, though, the danger of flying became obvious. And maybe, I decided, dad wasn’t infallible. I flew with him again, but I became a little more proactive. I paid attention to where we were going, what the weather conditions were, voiced more of an opinion on whether we should continue on with our journey or even go at all. As a matter of fact, this slight change in my attitude spread to other areas of our relationship as well. This event was a marker in my life, one that changed my relationship with my dad forever. In a good and necessary way, of course, as all changes are.
Dad got rid of the plane a little while after that day and hasn’t flown since. I do not think danger was a reason for him selling the plane, but I know it is a big reason I and my mother have discouraged him any time he has mentioned taking up flying again. Whenever I hear about a fatal crash, I think about how lucky I was. And there have been quite a few crashes: John Denver, a friend’s sister and her husband, and countless others I have read about in the news. Now I sit here and read Stephanie and Christian’s story and I think of the long road they have ahead of them, of their family’s pain, of the effects on their children. It makes me so incredibly sad.
Call me old, but I will never again fly in a single engine plane.