Thursday, August 10, 2017


August 23, 1963
Oak Bluffs Airport
     Everything was in order as we glided toward the field—gear down, full flaps, airspeed okay. Then something inexplicable happened. A gust of wind, or perhaps a downdraft, or a gremlin, caused the plane to plummet instead of continuing its glide.
     The exclamation “Throttle” leapt to my lips, but Ed was already pushing it in with a calm forward motion that should have produced the welcome sound of power. Instead, the motor failed to catch and we continued to fall. The Comanche's wheels hit the overhang of a sand trap between the field and the golf course and sheared off. We crashed onto the ground and spun 180 degrees..
     The force of the spin threw Ed against the windshield, breaking his dark glasses and giving him a deep gash over his right eye. The metal lever on his seat-belt hadn’t held, nor did mine. As the plane jarred to a stop, Ed saw me flying headlong through the door.
     Our passenger, Moppet, who had been taking a nap in my lap, was also flung out. As I hit the ground I could see her taking off as if fifteen tigers were after her.
     "Barbara, are you all right?" Ed was standing on the wing of the plane, blood streaming down his face but obviously alive.
     “Yes, I’m all right,” I said. “My God, are you all right?”
     “It’s okay, it’s just a cut, but the plane—my beautiful plane—goddammit, that’s the end of the flying, that’s the end of the airplanes!”
     I climbed stiffly to my feet and found I could walk all right except that my shorts kept falling down; the zipper was broken.  Ed’s face still dripped.
     “It’s nothing,” Ed said. “But oh, my poor airplane, my beautiful airplane! What happened! What did I do wrong?”
     People were swarming around us, asking if we were all right, arguing over who would drive us to the hospital.
     “All I need is a safety pin,” I said, holding onto my shorts and wandering off to look for Moppet. She didn’t answer my calls.
     “Here’s the truck, come on, you two,” the greens keeper urged. Someone had given Ed a handkerchief to hold against his head; it was already bright red. “You’re going to need a few stitches, fella.”
     “My dog has run off,” I said.
     “We’ll find your dog; you go along with your husband.”
     From his cot in the hospital’s emergency room, Ed gave me my orders. “Call the house, call the insurance company—here’s Bill Gail’s card, if he isn’t home call the Washington office—call the hotel and tell Timmy to come get us.”
     “You lie still,” the nurse said, sponging off his face and giving him some gauze pads to staunch the blood. “Press hard.”
     I went to make the phone calls. When I came back, Dr. Rappaport took me aside. “I don’t suppose he’ll listen to you, either. He’s quite a manager, that husband of yours—told me how and where to put the stitches, took his own x-rays, developed them, analyzed them . . . rather used to doing things his way, I should imagine.”
     Timmy arrived with Moppet. “Someone at the airport found her and called me.”
     One of Norwood's instructors flew over in a Comanche, and Timmy drove us to Martha's Vineyard Airport. Moppet and I hopped into the backseat—that is, I hopped in with Moppet under my arm; given a choice, she might have preferred to take the ferry—and Ed flew us back to Norwood. Kathie asked us later if Moppet was nervous. "She had her hands over her eyes the whole way," Ed said.
August, 1963
     Our accident has been on the radio and TV, so there is no way of keeping the news from our parents. Now they’ll really be convinced we should give up flying and switch to a more sensible diversion like Parcheesi.
      Bruce gave me a lesson in a rented Comanche. I confessed to having a delayed case of the jitters. He suggested we break out of the pattern and fly around for a while so I'd get the feel of the controls again.
     However, it's one thing to feel relaxed with Charles Lindberg the Second sitting next to me. The real test will come when he climbs out of our new Comanche–-Ed decided on a Twin, bigger and faster than the wrecked one—and says, "Okay, Pilot, she's all yours."
     I celebrated my 42nd birthday by soloing for the first time since last Saturday's "event," as Bruce calls it. Ed took movies of my takeoff and approach, ran out of film seconds before the Colt touched down. Posterity will never know what a splendid crosswind landing was executed, nor how much the pilot was shaking. For some reason, most of my nervousness was concentrated in my left leg: the closer I came to the ground, the more it became afflicted with a separate and private terror all its own. The result was a one-legged St. Vitus's Dance that made me wonder how I was managing to control the left rudder. 
     Two weeks later, I soloed in the Twin Comanche. Brought Moppet with me for moral support.   
     “Thanks a bunch,” said Moppet.                                                                                                                     

1 comment:

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