It’s been weeks since I’ve written an article. Tonet’s been urging me to write about our flight to Plaridel. I’ve been trying, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been having real trouble writing this article. I keep thinking of those two Indian girls, the students who died the day after our flight. They were fledgling pilots, just like me. They were about my age. The next day, they were names on the morning news as I went to school. What differentiated us?
About 200 feet.
Ernest Gann once wrote that fate is the hunter. Every time you go up there, there’s more to it than just skill. Dumb luck is important too. I don’t know if I believe that, but having them die in practically the same situation I’d been in the day before really shook me. As pilots, we’re trained to believe that the continued well-being of our aircraft and their occupants is entirely dependent on our competence as pilots-in-command. It takes a degree of humility – and courage – to realize that lady luck, ever fickle, is part of the equation too.
One of the friends I talked to about what happened, (a lovely young woman who shall soon receive more attention on this blog) remarked that I was meant to live – and that that made her really happy. That’s comforting.
What’s even more comforting is that I had Tonet backing me up during that flight. I will not find a better co-pilot anywhere. His experience and pilot’s instincts have been an immense help and inspiration in my own flying. I don’t think I can add much technical detail to his account of our flight, except to say that I was so busy watching for traffic that I didn’t have a solid idea of where exactly the runway was until halfway through the downwind leg. I’m never willingly flying into such a high traffic situation in such tight quarters again – especially when I’m new to the field.
This whole incident was a valuable lesson for me as a pilot, not only in technique and area familiarization, but also in what it is to be a pilot. Nothing, not even aviation, is risk-free. Every pilot today flings his skills and his machine into the air in defiance of odds that were thought to be impossible just a century ago. It is inevitable that not everyone will make it. Otto Lilienthal’s last words (after his last, fatal, glider crash) were, “sacrifices must be made.”
Well, not if I can help it. This brush with mortality has taught me to become a better, safer pilot. I hope that the same will be true of any aviators reading this.
I think Varsha and Reena would like that.
The incident that inspired Carlo to write this epiphany is described in Mid-Air Collision.