There’s a saying in this community. It’s a sad one. They say, that if you work around airplanes long enough, you know someone that has died in a plane crash. For me this was true nearly ten years ago when my friend Jesse crashed an airplane in Missouri in the middle of the night due to a dual engine failure. The factors leading up to the crash reflect poorly on my friend, but regardless of what happened, at the end of that night, he and his co pilot were dead, and their family and friends were shattered.
Tonight, my friend Brian is going through something similar, only far far worse. He watched two very close friends of his die in a plane crash at an airshow. True, they were doing something they loved, but there is no comfort in that. He had flown that airplane, and performed the very maneuvers that went so horribly wrong today. Talk about hitting close to home. “It could have been him,” my wife said. Thank God it wasnt, I thought. My heart goes out to my good friend, and I simply can’t imagine the pain he is feeling.
So, in light of this, let me tell you a story about how I came to meet Brian and why I hold him in such high regard. It was several years ago while I was an overworked, occasionally hot tempered regional airline captain in the middle of a very bad day. It had been a long day of several legs in and out of Newark. I finally got in sometime in the evening and was very much looking forward to catching my commute home and putting an end to the week. As I walked off the jetway I was met by Eileen the crew tracker in Newark. Eileen was a sweet lady, but when she showed up at the gate, you knew something was about to go terribly wrong. The reassignment was a trip, as second in command, to Fayetteville Arkansas, and then a deadhead to Houston. It was going to go into my days off, and quite frankly I was pissed. The last place on earth I wanted to go was Arkansas, and even less so as SIC. But, as Eileen so aptly reminded me, there was no choice, this was what I was doing.
So there I am, heading for the gate absolutely beside myself furious that I’m losing days off for some last minute trip to some ridiculous corner of the earth, sitting in the wrong seat… As I approach the podium, I see a couple pilots standing around chatting, as pilots often do at the gate before the plane gets in. As I get closer, they seem to stop their conversation and fix their eyes on me, steam obviously coming out of my ears. “Hey dude,” Brian says, “Uh, how’s it going.” I tell them (read: ranted) my tale of woe. The other pilot, to my surprise was actually riding the Jumpseat, and offered to take the leg off my hands so I could go home. We tried through the proper channels, but alas, he wasn’t legal to fly it. I was stuck. The light hearted response was, “Dude, that sucks, but lets just get this over with.” Fair enough.
The flight down, with three captains in the cockpit, was surprisingly pleasant. Mostly because Brian set the tone well. He was relaxed in manner, telling jokes, and some story about a delta pilot with a stuck mic, which was hysterical, although, all these years later, I can’t remember it well enough to retell. Probably without knowing it, he was able to get me to relax and forget about how awful my day had been.
We stayed friendly after that. We would exchange pleasantries in the briefing room when we ran into eachother, and a year later when I moved on to a different company, we stayed in touch. In the years that followed, when he was in town on an overnight, we would get together and catch up over dinner or a few spent cartridges at the range. I don’t think I ever thanked him for being the kind person that he was that night, and not judging me for being an asshole. Because, you know, guys dont do that stuff…. The truth is, back then, I’m not sure I would have been capable of the same.
We dont talk as often as we used to but it doesnt change the fact that Brian is a good friend. And a better person. I didn’t know his friends that passed away today, but if they were anything like him, the world is an emptier place. Its true, it wasnt Brian in the cockpit, but since I heard the news, I’ve been thinking about my buddy who has seen more than his share of hardship, that he didnt deserve, and who certainly didn’t need to watch his good friends perish this afternoon. I hate the saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with them.” But truthfully, my thoughts are with my friend, and the families of his friends. For someone who was kind to me when I needed it, I can only hope that he is able to find some comfort in knowing his friends and family are behind him during this tragic time. He more than deserves that.