Last Friday, Bach was flying solo from Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State in the two seat, single engine, experimental Searey aircraft he called "Puff", when he failed to clear power lines on approach to landing on San Juan Island. The line caught his landing gear causing the plane to flip over. Bach was suspended upside down for a time, held in place by his seat harness. A group of campers nearby came to his aid, cutting Bach free from his restraint and pulling him out of the airplane.
|Photo by Steve Wehrly - courtesy Journal of the San Juan Islands|
I am hoping that over the years, the 76 year old has learned to lighten up a little bit regarding pilot performance. In his book, A Gift of Wings, Bach writes, "The man who flies is responsible for his own destiny. The accident that could not have been avoided through the action of the pilot is just about nonexistent." For a man who wrote millions of words exploring the complexity of feeling and flight, his perpetuation of the myth of the all powerful pilot is hard to understand.
Ernest K. Gann, another well-known pilot, whose prolific output as a writer includes the novels The High and the Mighty and the marvelous Fate Is the Hunter. Gann's own close calls as an airline pilot (American Airlines, Matson Airlines and military service in the Air Transport Command) prompted him to believe that life or death was a toss up, not in the hands of the pilot or anyone else for that matter, but rather a matter of fate. What pilot with any serious number of hours moving people through the skies - especially in those early days didn't have a story in which a minor event contributed to or avoided catastrophe?
Having written two dozen books and ten movies, Gann died at the age of 81 on San Juan Island, the very same small island where Bach crashed his plane on Friday.
|The Antoine St. Exupery Aero Club in Mauritania|
We have pilots like these to thank for reminding us of the power and poetry of flight, which is just one reason why I join many, many others in praying for Richard Bach's full and speedy recovery. Write on.