The CO could have waited, done a dozen different things, played the bureaucrat, but he didn’t. I was testing his aircraft every day, my signature The Word that the aircraft I had just tested was safe-for-flight: it would go on the sked the next morning, for one of the other pilots to fly, with confidence, because I had tested it.

He could have delayed all of it while the investigations were pending.

Six-and-a-half seconds from first blurp until impact.

The hardest part about it is that you have to drop the collective immediately, instantly, unthinkingly, because you need to get the rotor blades at as flat a pitch as possible, hope the sprag clutches work, cause the rotor-blades to disengage from the rest of the transmission drivetrain so it can freewheel, and save those rotations for the very bottom, when you pull up on the collective, but with no engine power behind it, only the momentum left on the blades as the turns decrease, the lift lessens, and the ground rushes-up-as-you-mush-through-the-last-fifty-feet…





I sat bolt upright in my cot in the quonset hut, my heart pounding in terror. It was two nights after. I tried to control my breathing in the desert darkness. A hot wind blew under the side door and across to the opposite one. It was loud when it gusted, and felt like a hair dryer.

My eyes adjusted and I looked over, two racks to my left and the opposite row. Another figure was sitting up. I let my senses expand and I could hear Bill’s ragged breathing. His silhouette turned and looked at me. He grunted a greeting, a question…?

Yeah, I whispered back, barely audible over the wind.

He grunted, then laid back down.



…Imagine you’re on that roller coaster and you’re coming around one of the twists and you see that the track is broken and you’re only chance is to pull a lever that disconnects the car from the track, and that gives you only a slim chance of living, but a chance, if you manage to time it right and land in a nearby tree…after careening through the sky for six-and-one-half seconds.

Now, I tell this story not so as to make my daughters or kids feel guilty. I’ve gone happily onto some of these stupid coasters, twisters, and tumblers with friends and cackled and just let go… but it took a lot of years to get there. And so I say to my beloved daughters…when I was younger, and Lauren, and then Becca, and Molly, and Rachel, all wanted to go on the Alpengeist? (Some ghoulish coaster in which you are fundamentally in a swing, with your legs dangling, and dragged across the sky in loops and twists, and– at one point – hurtled at the ground because a part of the ride includes swooping below ground-level, in a cut- out, your feet and legs dangling perilously close to the ground…)

Wonderful shitReally.

Anyway, I never said anything because of my love for you girls. I never wanted to disappoint you, or let you down, but f*** me, I’ve gotta tell you this: the thing I was clenching my jaw against saying? Every time we would hit that chlunk, and lock in at the start of some gut-wrenching terrorfest, designed to produce adrenaline junkies by the hundreds… and I was looking stoically forward, resigning myself to my Fate?

I say this with all the love of a true “helicopter parent”:

That six-and-a-half seconds that you get, kids…if something goes wrong and one of those cars or seats or what-have-yous lets go…?

It’s a LOT longer than you think it is.

That last drop is a doozy!

The author minutes after the “deceleration event”