Record hours, record members, record aircraft. General Aviation, over the last year of the pandemic, has done anything but mask up and stay indoors. As I’m sure every Air Traffic Control facility in San Diego will tell you, GA not only kept flying; it kept flying a LOT. It’s easy to celebrate the success of not only the club, but the many, many pilots that have passed check rides in the past year. Certainly, these accomplishments are something that everyone can be proud of.
The year passed by extraordinarily fast. The fast-pace that pilots typically experience both in and out of the cockpit was compounded by an ever-changing world. In the midst of a Pandemic, it is important to find solace in something you enjoy. For most of us, that’s flying. The cliché that aviation is a small community couldn’t be more true. We see the same people at the airport every day. Expectation bias doesn’t just happen in the cockpit. When you spend countless hours at the airport, you just assume that you’ll continue to see the same people. Some will come and go as is the case with the airline guys, but you know that once their trip ends, you’ll probably see them at the airport.
Today, as I was going through my typical daily calls regarding some safety reports, I was met with a very unexpected outcome. At the end of the conversation, I was asked if I knew a member by the name of Dave Moynihan. Well yes, of course, he was one of my students. In fact, his introduction to my seaplane ended up with him sacrificing his comfortable seat in the plane to hitch a ride back to the airport at Lake Isabella. I digress. Dave went on to be one of the most avid flyers of the Lake. He was one of the few that had the opportunity to fly the plane east to the Colorado River, then fly it north to Laughlin, doing touch and goes in the river nearly the entire way. The last time I saw him, he was working on his multi-engine rating. Dave was a gifted pilot. He flew a number of airplanes both in and out of the club. I was told that Dave was involved in a plane crash near Ridgecrest on November 21st. He didn’t make it.
The pilots that have been around a while can probably tell you of at least one person they’ve known killed in a plane crash over their flying careers. I’m certainly no different. I’ve had a unique aviation journey. I’ve been involved very extensively in locating crashed airplanes over the past 20+ years. I’ve had to help look for numerous pilots that have, for one reason or another, been involved in a plane crash. It hits close to home though when you find out a plane or pilot involved is part of our small flight club. Aviation accidents will be part of our chosen career or hobby for the rest of time. Earnest Gann’s epic memoir, Fate is the Hunter, describes perfectly this ideology.
There have been a substantial number of student pilots that started flying in the club this past year. You may not know a lot of pilots yet as you are (understandably) focused more on your training than the social aspect of flying. At least for now. But you are already part of the family. Once you finish your primary training, you will be introduced to the rest of your brothers and sisters. It may take several years, but eventually you will come across someone that you knew, who was sadly and unexpectedly killed in a plane crash. It is inevitable. Sooner or later, it will happen to you.
For now, we can respect the pilots that have paid the ultimate price by constantly working to improve our skills. We can take a moment of silence, say a prayer, and get back into the cockpit. It’s what they would do. I know it’s what Dave would do. Tonight I’ll raise a glass for Dave; and make a promise that I will strive to be better. He would appreciate that. Fate really is, the hunter.
Rest in Peace my friend. You will be missed.