Not at Reno

It’s when you don’t want to write, that you should really be writing. Like right now. I don’t want to write because I don’t know how to tell this story, because it’s not a good one. Well, the “good” part of it is that Jeremy and I were – by chance – far from the “bad” stuff, and our friends near the “bad” stuff are – by narrow chance alone – unhurt.

You’ve probably seen the news by now about the crash into the box seats at the Reno Air Races. Friend of mine had invited me and Jem to come up and join them. He and his son had scored box seats front and center. They were driving up Wednesday to catch every day of the race, but Devon was adamant that Jem not miss any school. We decided that I would fly Jem up after school on Friday (today), and we’d join Dave and his son for the weekend. We’d delayed for an hour because of high winds, but were just about to head out to the airport when I got the call from Dave telling me not to come – there’d been a crash.

I didn’t quite follow – crashes at Reno weren’t all that infrequent. Usually it was someone losing an engine and bellying the plane in on the runway or a field somewhere, totaling his priceless Mustang or Bearcat, but getting off with a broken arm or a couple of ribs. There were bad crashes, too – pilots did get killed every three or four years. They’d usually shut down races for the day, but start the next morning with a memorial flight “because Johnny would have wanted it to go on.” And on it went.

So I was a bit puzzled by Dave’s instructions. No, he insisted, it was really bad. They weren’t hurt (what was he talking about?) but they were going to try to get home. He’d call me later.

It was only in the following hours, eyes glued on the Twitter feed, that it became clear what happened. One of the experienced racers – Jimmy Leeward flying “Galloping Ghost” – apparently suffered a mechanical failure (fingers are pointing at a trim tab coming loose). He went straight up, and came damned near straight down, right into the crowd at the edge of the box seats. The plane disintegrated in a mass of flying steel shrapnel, and Dave, his son and a hundred other spectators were right in the middle of it. Dave and his son got off lucky – folks right next to them weren’t. A dozen or more people are reported dead, with many times that in the hospital. Room for pause – if Devon weren’t so insistent on Jem not missing school, we would have been right there next to Dave.

So. Man, what do you do with this? Do you go flying – to get right back on the horse? Dunno if that’s relevant. It wasn’t normal flying, not the kind Dave and I do. It was Unlimited Air Racing – widely recognized as sport balancing skill and risk management against the reality of maneuvering half a dozen 10,000 lb turbocharged warbirds within arm’s length of each other at 500 mph while bouncing along the late-summer turbulence of a Reno afternoon. Lots of things can go wrong very quickly. But that’s the racers – spectators are supposed to be, just, spectators. Regardless, we’re getting together with Dave and his son tomorrow – they both could probably use someone to talk to. And what do you say to a boy that has just been through something like that? I think we all could use someone to talk to.

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