#1006 – Dick Bernard: The Plane Disaster in France. Thinking about Flying….

NOTE TO SUBSCRIBERS:
1. Links to full length videos of about 10 talks at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum Mar 6-8 can be accessed in the first paragraph, here
2. The entire 90 minute video of the powerful Seven Stories from Vietnam on Mar 20 can now be accessed, also in the first para, here.
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“I watched the news tonight from a slightly different perspective than usual. My wife is flying home from Arizona tomorrow night, and I am sure she and her sister are watching tonights news with more than a normal amount of interest.”
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Those first sentences were written Thursday evening, March 26. What follows is written on Saturday, March 28.
A few hours ago, about 1:30 a.m., I went out to Terminal 2 to pick up Cathy. The plane was full, she said. Not a word was mentioned about the Germanwings catastrophe over France, still dominating the news. The 1280 mile flight was apparently uneventful.
Truth is, of course, that flying is far safer than driving a car somewhere. Over the last 15 months I’ve averaged 1500 road miles per month, 310 miles at a stretch, just traveling between my home and the town in rural North Dakota where my uncle lived. Over half of that trip is on very busy I-94, including big city traffic; the rest is on rural ND roads, sometimes facing icy or snowy conditions, and always meeting oncoming traffic.
We all know, from life experience, that stuff can happen. People are killed in cars all the time. Sometimes we’re the crazy ones; other times the person is driving the other car.
Aircraft casualties kill more at a time, and are thus more newsworthy.
But to be in a plane is, on average, to be much safer than to be in a car. Anytime. Anywhere. It is impossible to enact and enforce rules that guarantee anyone anything.
We tend to forget that.

We are a creature of the air age. This morning at coffee I simply jotted down some memories (below). My Dad’s sister, Josie, my oldest Aunt, who I knew well, was 1 1/2 when Orville and Wilbur Wright made the famous flight at Kittyhawk (Dec. 17, 1903).
Here’s a photo of Josie with a tour group just arrived in Hilo Hawaii in 1969: Airline tour group 1969003
Personally, I would be in the category of occasional passenger on an airplane, several times a year during my work career, but not “frequent flier”. Except for my first flight, which was nerve-wracking (personally, not anything to do with the plane), most of the flights were normal, though some had their moments, like landing in an approaching storm at St. Louis’ Lambert Airport back in the 1990s. Either we’d land or we wouldn’t – nothing you can do about it.
Here’s some of my memories. Maybe they will jog your own.
First sightings of airplanes:
1940s, in Sykeston ND: A local electrician owned a two-seater, and occasionally took off and landed in the pasture north of our house. One time he overshot the runway, ending up in Lake Hiawatha. It was far more interesting to me that he’d run in the lake, rather than what had happened to him. He apparently lived.
Somewhere in the late 1940s, same town, a huge six engine airplane flew over our town at very low altitude. It came from the northeast, as I recall. Later research showed that it probably was a B-36B from Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota. They were probably practicing bombing runs. Thankfully, we weren’t a target. It was probably enroute home to Ellsworth, approximately 300 miles southwest of us
About 1953, I saw Air Force One over Minot ND. President Eisenhower came to town, probably to review the in-progress Minot Air Force Base. Later we had a close up and personal view of the President in motorcade down the main street, in an open convertible. Those were the days….
First flights:
In 1962, I flew home on Army leave from Denver’s Stapleton Airport, to Bismarck ND. The plane was one of the class I knew as DC-3 planes, very, very loud. Lots of rattling. It was frightening just to be on the plane. We arrived at Rapid City, and the connecting flight to Bismarck was full. So two of us were switched to a single engine four-seat plane and flew across the night landscape. It was a flight not to be forgotten.
A year later, in the same Army unit, a practice troop deployment took us from Colorado to South Carolina. We didn’t know it then, but the Army was practicing for Vietnam.
We flew in what I’d call a flying cigar, probably a 707 type aircraft, which doubled as troop and general cargo carrier. There were no attendants on this flight, no plush seats, and there was only one tiny window, and the only sensation of whether you were flying or crashing, etc., was your gut. There was not much banter among the GI’s that day.
Most interesting flight:
In 1973, the organization for which I was working chartered an airliner to take a plane full of delegates from Minneapolis to Portland OR. The memorable part of this trip was when the pilots opened the door to the cockpit and allowed us to actually enter the cockpit, a couple at a time, to see the business end of the airplane, in business.
Wouldn’t happen today, that’s for sure.
Most tense flight:
Back in the good old hi-jacking days of U.S. flights in the 1970s, I was on another flight from Minneapolis to Denver.
A man boarded with a metal suitcase which seemed to be very heavy, and there was a protracted and very tense negotiation between the flight crew and the man, asking him to store the suitcase during the flight.
He refused, and ultimately they relented and he kept the suitcase with him.
I’ve often wondered what he was carrying.
The most memorable flight day:
Actually, this was an absence of flight days.
We live more or less on the flight path into and out of Minneapolis. There is always something in the air, and often times you can hear residual noise from planes.
For a few days after 9-11-01 there was no air noise whatsoever. Every plane had been grounded.
We have, it seems, been terrorized ever since.
I’m sure you have your own stories….
Care to share?

Comment
from Anne D:
Dick, yes it jogged my early memories of plane sightings and other flying objects… blimps.
I had secured a collection of plane cards, probably from a cereal box. So when one flew over I ran outside to see if I could identify the airborne vehicle. Some of the planes pulled banners. Later I remember many that wrote on the sky. My favorite were the slow floating dirigibles that fascinated me and my grandfather Vanoss. Also, the searchlights that lit the night. My grandfather told me they were friendly ghosts dancing in the sky. We watched them together from the front porch.

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