Sunday, September 17, 2000
The fear of flying is really the fear of falling. Those who tremble at the thought of getting in an airplane are not, for the most part, scared of soaring. They are terrified that the thing won't stay airborne.
The truth is that plane crashes are rare, much rarer, than automobile accidents. So our fear of flying is not based on some statistical probability that says we're not likely to return safely. In fact, the opposite is true. But, then, how many fears are based on logic? They are centered in our core, where we feel that tightness that shortens our breath.
Not everyone is scared of flying, of course. Some people live to fly. Just as those of us who don't like to get in airplanes can't understand the attraction of leaving the safety of earth, pilots can't imagine a life tied to the ground.
So they fly.
And sometimes they fall.
For two summers in a row now, an airplane has tumbled from the sky onto the floor of the Yampa Valley. The two accidents took the lives of four fliers.
Last year, a pilot named Dick Yeager and his passenger, Cindy Hines, both of Steamboat Springs, died when the biplane they were in went into what's called a flat spin and crashed in a meadow south of the city.
This year, the pilot was a man named Joe Gunnels. His passenger was Steamboat Springs resident Lynn David White. They, too, died when the plane they were in fell to the earth belly first. The accident happened Sunday, and was seen by hundreds of people. Some were in the grandstands at Romick Arena over which Gunnels' vintage plane and two others flew just before the accident. The "ahhs" of the flyover turned to "ohhs" of confusion and concern as the plane strangely stopped flying and started falling. It hit on top of a hill in an area that was thankfully out of view of most who were watching.
Still, the tragedy was public. And because it was, it traumatized many. Mental health professionals were asking those who witnessed the crash to call them if they needed to talk. But, of course, the real pain is being felt by the family and friends of the two men who died. To them go our thoughts, prayers and sympathies.
Organizers of the Vintage Airplane Fly-in that drew Gunnels to Steamboat Springs for the Labor Day weekend say the crash won't keep them from continuing the event. That's the right decision.
You see, we can't keep people from flying and we can't keep them from falling. By cancelling an event that celebrates pilots' love of the air, all we would do is send them someplace else to soar.
And we'd rather have them here
if only for a while.