Over the last few years I, along with the rest of my family, have had the honor of attending the Air Races as part of the Media Ops team. In that short amount of time we have come to consider everyone there as family and graciously my family has been inducted into there’s. Needless to say that attending the races is always a big deal for us, even if that means driving 16 hours from Montana in order for me to attend. The event started as it usually does, a predawn shoot on the tarmac with a plane that was graciously pulled out just for us photogs. It just so happened that the first one we worked with was the Super G Corsair, courtesy of the Odegaards. I’m sure if you have gone to Dad’s blog by now that you realize not only how close we are with them but also how close that plane is with Galloping Ghost. It was a beautiful morning shoot with followed up with a day of walking the pits, talking with the crews, sucking up every bit of information that we could about the planes.
Thanks to the friendships Dad had created with the Odegaards and Jimmy, we were able to reunite the Super Corsair and the Ghost for another early morning shoot that will always be remembered. Everyone out there was in awe seeing these historic aircraft together and we gave thanks that we could be part of such an event. However, after the events on Friday, they were the hardest images to look at. It’s the sad truth to aviation that planes go down, and the ones we love we lose. Standing out at Pylon 2 Dad and I finally made the connection that Ghost was flying in that heat, unfortunately only seconds after we made this discovery we saw the cloud of dust come up and the horrible gut wrenching feeling came over us, as we knew exactly who went down.
Rushing on to the bus and back to Media Ops we watched the stands hoping that everyone was going to be okay, fearfully knowing that it wasn’t going to be. As soon as we arrived Dad and I were directed to be part of the first response but shortly were turned around being told that they had enough volunteers. We spent the rest of the that horrid day waiting around, helping where ever we could, consoling whoever needed it. We kept busy or at least as distracted as possible to try and keep away the images of what had occurred to come flashing back into the mind. As the day went on volunteers and photogs started to leave, they made the journeys homeward talking with all their loved ones and friends. Mom, Dad and I stayed around we helped until there was nothing left to do that night, including answering phones in the RARA office, talking to those that feared they had lost their family and friends. We spent three hours in that office, Dad and I entered names into the computer and Mom was on the phone. Everyone just wanted to keep busy. We went to bed that night, not sure what the next day would be like or how much worse it would get.
Saturday was the first day that i can remember coming to the races and sleeping in. We always got up early, but this time there was nothing to get up for. No planes to shoot, no crews in the pit to talk to, no sounds whatsoever. It was quiet, it was unnerving. Dad and I walked the pits that morning looking for all those that we knew and could find, trying to talk with anyone to make sure they were okay. The pits which usually have a movement to them in the morning were clam and stark. It was like walking through a ghost town. At times it seemed our voices echoed there was so little going on. NTSB had locked everything down and taken control of the scene within hours of the incident. It still seemed odd that there was no one at these planes. We walked for 2 hours before we came back to Media Ops at which point a security guard stopped us and said “you can’t be in there.” We hung around the trailer and the building helping where ever we could.
The few photographers that were there talked about what had happened, sharing our stories about Jimmy. We laughed when we could, remembered things that Jimmy had said or done. We all tried to get a handle on what had happened, and what was going to happen.
Eventually most people left, leaving only a few volunteers and the family to help break down Media Center. It felt even stranger breaking down the media center on a Saturday. It usually is busy, everyone is moving around getting lists made, flights ready, and photogs in and out so they can shoot the races. There was none of that. The only commotion was getting the place packed up, again keeping us from thinking about what had happened.
There was press conferences that started the day before and continued through the weekend. The News teams yet again proved their rudeness and true lack of interest in the tragic event. They were all trying to get their 5 minutes of fame paying little if any respect to the good man that we lost. It was disgusting for those of us watching that knew Jimmy and knew about the plane. Most of us walked out before the conference even ended. This was the first crash that i had witnessed with such devastating affect, I truly hope it is the last. The reality is that this kind of flying is dangerous, the pilots know this we spectators have a harder time handling it. I realize the little solace there is in these words, knowing full well that it does nothing to bring anyone back nor ease that horrible feeling that we now have. I can only say that this event hurt is all and as a community we’ll have to work together to get past this.
My thanks go out to all those that called, emailed or texted to make sure that me and my family were alright. All your support made a big difference, please show the same support now for those involved with the accident. My hopes and prayers go out to Jimmy’s family, along with all those that had friends and family involved with the tragic accident. May those that we lost always be remembered in our hearts, and pray that they are watching over us in a better place.