Friday, June 17, 2016
"So the last will be first, and the first will be last." — Matthew 20:16
When I was the administrator of a 200-bed, locked mental facility in Los Angeles back in the seventies, the guy who owned the facility was a private pilot. He was always looking for someone to fly with him, but as he was short, fat, and had a permanent odor about him, few would get into a small plane with him. Since he was the owner, I had to give in and fly with him a couple of times a year. We’d fly out to Catalina Island or up to the desert and back, usually gone about four hours which was three hours and forty-five minutes past the time I could tolerate being with him, but he paid me well. One day, we were flying in his Cessna 310 (see picture at the right) and were coming back from Catalina Island. Now, from the picture, you can see that there is no door on the pilot’s (left) side of the plane; there is only a door on the passenger or co-pilot’s seat on the right which was where I was sitting. This will be important later. As we approached the little field where he kept his plane, he noticed that only the nose wheel and the left wing wheel had come down. He tried over and over to get all the landing gear down, but the wheel on the right wing just resisted every effort. You can land a plane without a nose wheel, but not with only one of the wheels on each side. We even had a technician from Cessna come up in a helicopter to look and see if there was anything he could think of to do—there wasn’t. What this meant (all this time, I am trying to keep very cool and not scream and yell at the pilot) was that we were going to have to fly round and round until we emptied all the fuel from the tanks and then, with no gear down, belly land the plane in the grass between the runways. Only problem was that there were slightly elevated taxi-way connections that would flip us over if we hit one. So, we had to belly land and come to a stop before we came to one of those taxiways. Once all the fuel was gone, this was going to be a one time only landing. There would no going back around to try again. I really wasn’t too worried until the control tower called and wanted to know if I wanted my wife brought to the airport to watch the crash landing. Taking Karen out of school to perhaps watch me die didn’t sound like a good thing to do, so I declined their kind offer. Well, we finally had all the gas out of the tanks (to prevent a fire and explosion upon landing) and were coming around for the final belly flop onto the ground. It was a little weird landing with the engines off and no noise but the wind rushing past the windows. We came down a lot faster than I thought we would, but Perry (the name of my boss) brought the crippled plane down right on a dime and slid to a halt on the grass without smacking into anything. Remember me talking about the position of the door? My boss moved his fat little body faster than I have ever seen and crawled over me to get to the door and get out of the plane ahead of me. There was a large crowd, emergency crews and folks, and they grabbed him and got him away. When I got out, they all cheered and yelled. You see, they assumed that no good pilot would leave the plane before his passenger, so I must have been the pilot. They took pictures that showed up in the paper with me as the amazing pilot. Perry was livid. With a very red face, he yelled that he had landed that plane, and then the emergency crews asked him why he was the first one out of the plane? He had nothing to say, and the newspaper articles ran as they had been written with me as the hero. Funny thing is, he never asked me to go flying with him again after that. I guess the last really do get to be first sometimes.