The following is my account of the happenings on the morning of April 8, 2012.
My thoughts and prayers go out to George's family, whom my family has known for longer than I have been on this earth.
Saturday, April 7th, 2012:
1806: George calls my brother Henry Jr. up Saturday night (last night, April 7th) and tells us he'll be in town to give us rides in his aerobatic Extra 300 plane. Jr. agrees to meet him at the airport and for me to fly at 0730 and Jr. at 0800 hours.
Sunday, April 8th, 2012 (Easter Morning):
0715: We (Jr. and I) arrive at the airport, but we don't see Jer's truck, and we don't see or hear George's plane, but we think that he and Jer are already in the air. We don't hear any planes, but figure that they were probably high in the sky just to keep a safe distance above the ground to do aerobatics.
~0730: We see Jer go by in his truck, and jog out there to see what's up. Jer says that he thinks George crashed, and that he saw George go down. George was doing aerobatics way off in the distance, and Jer saw him go into a spiral. He disappeared below the mountain level and then he heard a "thud," and was like, "Oh my gosh, I think he just crashed!" He said that he thought he heard an engine, not believing that George had crashed, and strained his eyes to see if the plane had come out of the spiral, but he never saw it come out. He talked to a refueler guy and asked him to turn to the emergency frequency.
After hearing nothing to indicate a crash, he calls the tower, and the guy in the tower says that the Sheriff's Department has said there's been a crash. The guy in the tower cites a "Visalia" road as the possible crash site, so Jer leaves the tower, and goes out the gate, where he meets us.
~0745: We talk to Jer, and Jer says, "I think he's gone." It was one of the most surreal and somber moments in my life, and it didn't really hit me that George had crashed. Jer had tears in his eyes when he said it, and I still couldn't believe or really understand what had happened. He relays how he came to find out, then says that he's going to go try to find the crash site, and we (Jr. and I) decide to hop in the truck.
~0750 to ~0845: Jer, Jr. and I search and search for Visalia Road, calling Brian and my dad to have them Google Visalia road, but none existed. We tried the tower and the airport, but could not reach anyone. We passed some dense smoke on our search, but Jer thought it was too dense and too white of a color to be smoke from an airplane, citing that there would not be much smoke or fire from that type of aircraft. After turning around, we decide to investigate the smoke. As it turns out, it was indeed a controlled burn.
After running out of options, we decide to stop on Llentrah Road, off of the 101, and try to reach the tower one last time. If we did not, we decided we'd just head back to the airport. After trying and still not getting anyone on the line (in addition to the line being busy the several times we tried to contact the tower), we just happen to see a large fire truck (larger than the typical "big" fire truck) go by. (This was definitely the timing and hand of God, Who led us there to be there at that moment.) Jer decides to follow the fire truck, musing that it was going to the crash site. (He jokingly remembers that it's illegal to follow a fire truck, but later adds that the stipulation may be that if the fire engine has its lights flashing, it's illegal to follow closely behind the fire engine, with the intention of making all of the lights.) So we follow the fire engine, and it makes a left onto Alabaz from Lasila, and then a left on Stold Age Road. It then makes a left into a road marked "Private Road, No Trespassing," and stops. Jer stops a little behind the fire engine.
~0845: The fire guys get out, and one of them asks us if he can help us. We tell him that we think our friend had crashed, and that we were hoping they were going to the crash site. He tells us, "Hold on," then talks to some of the other officials there. Two Sheriff's Department officers and what turns out to be the coroner ask us what's going on. We tell him we think our friend just crashed, and that we've been looking and looking, trying to find the site, and that we were slotted to take rides with him at 7:00, 7:30, and 8:00. We tell them his (George's name), and they confirm that there were no survivors.
At this point it finally hits me that he's gone, and the tears start to flow. It finally hit me. It was painfully uncool and surreal.
0857: I call Pastor's cell phone, but received no answer.
0858: I call Pastor's home phone, and Sister Judy picks up. I ask to speak with Pastor, but she says that he's already at the church. She asks what's wrong, hearing the strain in my voice. I pretty much break down as I tell her we're pretty sure George has had a fatal crash, and that I feel like it'd be best if she and Pastor could go down to Lyn's house to break the news to her.
~0930: Pastor heads out to try to find us, but doesn't have a cell phone, so he ends up driving up and down Lasila trying to find us and the wreckage. He finally goes back to the airport to phone me and get directions.
Meanwhile, Judy has picked Lyn up, and I give them directions to the crash site.
~0950 - 1000: Sister Lyn, Sister Judy, and Pastor arrive at the scene.
~1100: Steve, April and the girls arrive.
~1130: George Senior arrives.
1145: Jer, Jr., and I leave the scene of the crash.
It all still seems unbelievable right now. I was thinking that if I was in that plane when it went down, it wouldn't be so bad in the sense that it's always worse for those who are left behind. In other words, if I had gone down, that would have been it.
I was in an automobile crash once where this guy pulled out in front of me and I hit the guy, and then about 2 seconds later I reacted, and said, "Oh my gosh!" It happens that fast. I might've had a little time to think or say something or anything had I been in the plane, but there's just a thud and it's all over. But it's always worse for those left behind.
If I had been the one with George, it would have been a thud, and that would've been the end. Once you're done, you're done. But if my brother or Jer had been the one in there, then it would have been far worse than it already is.
I guess I'm trying to say that whenever something like this happens, you're always left wondering, why am I still here? That so could've been me. That's what Jer said. "I'm just thinking that that could've been me." Am I ready to go? Would I have been ready to go?
All of our lives impact others' lives, no matter how large or small those impacts may be. We all cause ripples. We are all connected in some way, shape, or form.
George grew up with me, my family and friends in our church and school. He was inspired by Steve (after flying in an expensive flight simulator) to be a pilot. He miraculously and with God's guiding hand achieved his dream (by passing test after test and exam after exam) by getting to fly the Harrier Jumpjet after going through flight school. (Just being able to fly jets was a miracle in itself, as there are so many factors that go into who gets to fly what in the Marines. He could have been chosen to fly helicopters, or cargo planes, or...but no, he got his dream to fly military jets.)
His dream was to be a Blue Angel, and I and many others had remarked that we had thought that God was going to pave the way straight for George to go right on through to the Blues.
This is still so much of a shock. Please, dear reader, keep all of us in your prayers as we move through this difficult time.
Remember that eternity is one moment, one second away. Love like there's no tomorrow.
There may be no tomorrow - for you or your loved one.
I will end this post with a post from Jer's Facebook:
"Love your family like there's no tomorrow, because we are not promised tomorrow. I feel God's grace...God's mercy, like never before. I was supposed to go up next for an aerobatic airplane ride with a good friend. I watched as the plane spun, then disappeared from site, then I heard a very loud thud. It was all over, I couldn't believe it. Shock, sorrow, and disbelief, in the extreme, is how I feel right now.
My friends and family on facebook, Please, please, make sure right now, that your heart is right with God. Our lives are so fragile, and eternity is so close. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." -Jeremey S. -4.8.12