Monday, August 14, 2006

Death and Details


homemade sign at the site of my brother-in law's plane crash

My sister's husband Bob was killed in a private plane crash July 16 at an air show in Oregon. He wasn't even performing. He was taking off to fly home to LA.

But something went terribly wrong. On the ground they could tell. And watched helplessly as Bob fought to control the plane, to turn it away from a crowded neighborhood.

He almost succeeded. His plane crashed into one house bordering the field he was trying to reach. The house was empty, thank God. The owner, it turns out, was at a flower show. She should have been home when the plane hit. But she was delayed. For a bizarre reason.

As the 200th visitor through the flower show door, she spent 20 extra minutes receiving her prize -- a bag of specially mixed, high end manure-based garden fertilizer. So, as Bob's son later said, the next time somebody hands you a bag of sh*t, don't complain.

Amazingly, there have been no complaints from the Hillsboro, OR community damaged by the plane crash. Only praise for Bob's heroic efforts to protect them, their families and their properties, at the cost of his own life. The photo above shows a sign they put up at the crash site.

In addition to the garden show lady, there's more macabre coincidence. Two young neighborhood girls were selling raffle tickets for their school. Minutes before the crash, they rang the bell of her house, then left when no one answered. If the owner had been home, they all would have been standing in the doorway when the plane hit.

Another detail. Small but poignant. Mostly my sister and brother-in-law went to air shows together. But no matter where they were--even if he was at his LA law office or in court--whenever a small plane crash made the news, she'd call him on his cell phone to confirm he was safe. It was their private little husband-wife ritual.

This time she'd taken a visiting cousin to San Francisco instead of joining him in Oregon. A news blurb on the car radio mentioned a plane crash in Hillsboro. Without any sense of fear or premonition she called his cell and left her typical message, "I just heard about a plane crash. Call me back so I know it wasn't you."

Tragically, horribly, that call would never come.

And adding insult to injury, it's been a brutal month of waiting to retrieve Bob's remains. The crash had to be investigated by government agencies. The plane exploded on impact, so DNA comparison was needed. Endless documentation was required before a death certificate could be issued.

Forget CSI, this was all too sickeningly real.

We're Jewish, so the wait was even more difficult. By tradition death is handled quickly. Burial must be immediate, the next day if possible. Following which we "sit shiva" at home -- seven days of shared mourning with family and friends. Then we can go back to living our lives.

But the FAA and the NTSB don't--can't--care about religious rituals. They have their own air disaster protocols to follow. So it's taken this long to get Bob back.

I'm heading out to LA tomorrow to help my sister prepare for Bob's memorial service. In a day or two, I'll tell you about their first plane crash. The one they both survived.


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2 Comments:

Anonymous tami curtis said...

i dont even know you, yet i follow your blog. i dont even know you, yet i am truly sorry for your loss. i dont even know you, yet i would really like to.

condolences.

tami curtis

8:55 AM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

Thank you, Tami, what a really nice thing to say. I'll let my sister know.

11:03 AM  

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