We’ve been trying to find a moment in time to get this badly-neglected web site up and running again (and many thanks to Francois Dumas for keeping it alive), but with so many projects on the go, achieving that has been near-impossible. However, recent events demand that we get WhyFly back “in the air,” so I’d like to try and instigate yet-another-re-launch with my thoughts on the man whom – in so many ways – was responsible for WhyFly right from the beginning.
I was heading out the door on Saturday, September 1st, when I thought I heard my answering machine. I ran back up the stairs and heard the machine record something about “Richard’s Crash.” Turned out it was Hal Bryan (one of the original founders of WhyFly) calling and I could scarcely believe what he was telling me.
Hal wanted to be sure I didn’t hear the news through The Media, so he was calling to give me the staggering news that Richard Bach had crashed his beloved Ultralight Amphibian, “Puff,” the previous afternoon. My heart was racing as Hal quickly told me that Richard was still alive … however, he’d received a severe head trauma, had been medevacked to hospital, and was now in ICU, categorized in critical condition.
After thanking Hal for telling me (and I can think of no one from whom I would rather have heard the news), I quickly did an online search and found details of the crash – along with pictures (which I could really have done without seeing).
It appeared – APPEARED – that Richard had snagged his landing gear on a power line while landing on the short, downhill grass strip owned by a mutual friend. As it was Richard who had taught me how to get in to a strip like that, in my mind’s eye I could see how I would have approached low over the wires with power, then “chopped & dropped” so I could get the airplane solidly on the ground then jump on the brakes.
But how was it possible that he’d missed that power line? It didn’t make sense – not with Richard at the controls – and I knew I had to be missing some crucial piece of information.
The five-hour drive to pick up my partner Michelle (WhyFly’s Creative Director) was a hellish one. The first thing I heard when I turned on the radio was a report on Richard’s crash, and the way it was reported held out little hope for his recovery. Every hour on the hour I’d listen to the latest newscast, hoping to glean some new, tiny detail – and hoping, almost beyond hope, that I wouldn’t hear the sickening news that my friend of 42 years had passed away.
As soon as I reached the cottage where Michelle was staying, I got on the phone and started calling some of Richard’s children.
(Sidebar: I’ve known them since they truly were “kids,” and I’ve been fortunate enough to stay friends with them – as well as Richard’s first wife, Bette Fineman – ever since.)
Richard’s son Jonathan is probably the one with which I stayed closest, so I was greatly relieved to get in touch with him and hear more details.
Now I’d better state right here that “The Family” – and I – know how much Richard values his privacy, and we all want to honour that wish as much as possible. But the man is such a public figure – and such an icon to his Pilot & “New Age” fans – that to say nothing is actually more of a disservice, in my opinion.
Many people care so deeply for him that I’m sure even “reclusive Richard” would understand their need to know how he was doing, albeit in the broadest of terms … which is exactly what his family has done.
Those first few days were terrible as Richard’s survival was still very much in question. (And the situation wasn’t helped by several erroneous news reports that Richard had, indeed, passed.)
However, this is Richard Bach we’re talking about and the man has astounding will power. So after surviving the first 24 hours, I wasn’t that surprised to hear his doctors say they were “Cautiously Optimistic” that he might recover.
It’s now been two weeks since the crash and – although Richard has good days and bad – we’re still hopeful that his doctors’ cautious optimism will prove correct. I’m not stating anything that hasn’t already been made public by saying Richard’s physical injuries are healing extremely well “for a man of his age,” but that his head trauma will have to take “a long, slow road to recovery”…
As for the cause of the crash:
Others have stated – quite rightly – that no assumptions should be made until the investigation has been completed and the findings made public. (Every pilot deserves that much.)
However, as this is Richard Bach, theories have been popping up all over the internet ever since the crash was first made public. I can understand that. Pilots especially feel the need to know “Why?”
One theory which seems to stand out above the rest is that it was Richard’s first visit to this particular strip, that he had been warned there was a power line at the north end BUT, as it turns out, there were TWO lines – one on either side of the road he had to cross right before landing. In addition, the afternoon sun would have been shining on his windscreen as he made his approach so it’s relatively easy to imagine Richard making sure he had safely crossed the phone line wires (the first set) before descending as fast as he could towards the button of the runway – which would have put him in the right position to hit the second (unknown to him) power line – hidden as it was by the glare on his windshield.
I say again – that is one theory.
There could have been mechanical failure, or downdraft from a nearby ridge. Any number of factors – as yet unreported – could have caused the crash. We’ll have to wait for the final report from federal investigators to know for sure.
Not that it really matters…
What does matter – all that matters – is that Richard recovers and gets back to doing the things he loves the most.
Which, fortunately for all of us, includes writing – and inspiring – whole generations of people to fall in love with the sky and – for many – to become pilots.
I know that for a fact because I am one of them.
So, get well soon, my friend.
You will remain close in the hearts and thoughts of all of us who have come to value and love that wonderful (albeit occasionally-cantankerous <g>) character named Richard Bach.