Sunday, October 16, 2016

Thirteen

Thirteen years is a long time.  In the last 13 years, I moved four times and had four different jobs.  Thirteen years ago I was married and now I'm not.  In the last 13 years I've been to Ecuador, Belize, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Nepal, Patagonia, Antarctica, and Iceland.

Today is the 13th anniversary of a helicopter crash.  Not a fatal one, at least not then, although I think that one of the passengers might still be alive today if he hadn't been there, sitting in the front seat.  I don't talk about it a lot, partly because I've known so many people who didn't make it through their own crashes, or who were forever physically and mentally changed afterwards.  "What's the big deal, nobody died," somebody once said to me.  It's hard to explain.  How do you explain the impact of this, when you and the others are up walking around, looking just fine?
But sometimes I do talk about it, because my crews want to know, and there are lessons they can learn from it: the importance of training for disaster, so your actions are second nature when it does happen, and why every person on every flight needs to have a purpose, no joyrides allowed.  When I talk about it, I usually don't know what people are thinking.  Maybe they are thinking what's the big deal, or maybe I'm not sure I want this job now. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

This summer there was a fire close to the crash site; so close that fire camp was only a quarter mile away.  The hotshot crew from my forest was there.  They had heard my story but that wasn't the end of it.

The 20 men and women drove to the crash site.  They lined out in a row as if they were looking for smokes on the fire, and gridded through the meadow.  But instead of embers, they looked for pieces of wreckage.  They found over a hundred, tiny particles of paint and metal and honeycomb, after 13 years still lying in the grass where they had come to rest.


The crew took them home.  From the wreckage they created a piece of art for me.

This is the tail number of the aircraft, made of small pieces of wreckage.
This is one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received.  I hung it on my wall, where I see it every day.  The past thirteen years haven't all been good, but not everyone gets a second chance. Or has friends like these.

18 comments:

  1. What an amazing gift. I'd like to hear more about the crash, if you'd be willing to share.

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    1. Hi Shelley, I wrote a little about it here http://accidental-firefly.blogspot.com/2011/10/crash.html but basically, it was a mechanical problem that occurred when we were coming in for a landing after doing a recon of a wildfire that I was in charge of. The part that broke caused us to spin in the air. The pilot only had a few seconds to react but was able to get us away from most of the trees. All of us survived but one of the men ended up passing away on the 5th anniversary of the crash, possibly accidentally or possibly suicide. I still keep in contact with the others and they are doing well. The helicopter was totaled but because it was the first operational crash of this type of helicopter, manufacturers were able to learn from it and create a secondary restraint system for the part that broke.

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    2. Thank you for the link, and for the additional details. It's always incredible when something like that happens and everyone survives, although yes - a toll seems to be taken as was with your fellow survivor. I'm glad you are still here!

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  2. A haunting story, but what a heartfelt gift. What's the big deal, nobody died? I can't even imagine the terror one must feel during a crash.

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    1. I really thought it was the end. This gift meant so much to me!

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  3. What a thoughtful gift. Your crew must think highly of you to create something like this. Yes, I agree, even if no one died, it must have been a horrible thing to live through.

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    1. I had to overcome a lot to get back in a helicopter, but I think getting back in one a week later helped.

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  4. Sweet art work. Is there anything those hotshots aren't good at! You are a survivor and the fire community is a better world for it. Carry on little warrior!

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    1. Those hotshots....good at everything! Yet the jumpers get the glory.

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  5. Sending love and gratitude that you've had these 13 more years of life.

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  6. Gratitude for the second chance you and others have had and what you have made of those years, including the respect and caring the Hotshot crew obviously has for you. A gift with so much meaning, and your writing with so much poetry. Thank you for sharing this.

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    1. I heart them, they are a really good group of people.

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  7. What amazing friends! And what an amazing story and reminders to us all to treasure life!!

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  8. Nepal as in Asia?
    Very nice gift, and thank you for sharing the story Lynn!!!! (I think as you said, it must not be easy)

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    1. Yes Nepal. I loved it there. So beautiful.

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