Monday, November 29, 2004

They look better when they're in the air

By now, you've likely heard of the crash of the plane carrying NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol and two of his sons. One son, fourteen years old, and two employees of Jet Alliance died in the crash of the twin engined jet. I'm sure it looked better flying... Plane crashes are gruesome.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene following the crash. Charles Ebersol, the sports executive's 21-year-old son, was screaming for help and saying his brother was still on the plane, according to Doug Percival, a driver at a towing service who was one of the first to arrive.

"Can you please help get him out?'" Ebersol pleaded, according to Percival. The elder Ebersol was sitting on the ground nearby, rocking back and forth.

"You could tell he was in shock. Both of them had been ripped out of their shoes," said Percival.

With light snow falling, crews began picking through the charred pile of twisted metal and a 6-foot-high shard of the fuselage with three gaping, round windows. The two engines lay on the ground nearby near the tail section where they had been mounted.
I was reminded of a plane crash I came upon years ago. Only, in that instance, there were no survivors... and people exhibiting shock were those of us who came upon the scene.

It was late October, and I was living on High Knob, a mountain just east of Front Royal, Virginia. We were coming back from grocery shopping, and I decided to drive a bit up the knob from our home; our little cabin was at about 1200 feet. It was fall, and fog enveloped the knob; what I thought I might see, I don't know. Anyway, as we were driving along, I noticed flames some forty to fifty yards off the gravel road in the woods. I figured someone was burning leaves. I parked the car, leaving the family in the minivan, and strutted into the woods yelling, "Who's tending this fire."

Out of the smoke and flames came the local handyman with a shovel in his hand. He looked like he'd seen a ghost; later I came to realize he was likely having flashbacks from his days in Vietnam. "Plane crash," he said quite simply.

"Is anybody hurt?" I asked.

His reply was quiet, "There's nothing we can do."

That's not quite an answer I'd be willing to hear, then or now. So, I ran on toward the heart of the flames... and I came to realize PTSD or not, there was nothing we could do. I could see the blackened shapes in the cabin, flames licking all. I could smell the fuel and the burnt flesh. Three, black lumps sat upright where people once sat.

I ran back to the car and told Dianne to drive down to the house to get my father who was visiting. I figured whatever the case, he had the right skills: priest and emergency medicine.

Then I went back and watched the fire, a pit in my stomach, and wondering what I could do to help.

When the volunteer fire fighters arrived, there wasn't much they could do, either. The first couple of fire fighters raced up to the scene, humping hose through the woods. They ran to the burning fuselage, thinking they could save someone; finding the charred meat, they turned back to the woods, wretching in the damp, fog-filled air.

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