…Than Over This Past, Cruel Year

by Rob Finfrock

Rob HeadshotI was first introduced to general aviation at the tender age of 27, through a work-related trip in August 2002 from Albuquerque, NM up to the Four Corners region in the right seat of a rundown, freight dog Cessna 310Q. Just three years after that fateful trip, I had a job writing about all things aviation-related… including aviation accidents.

My family is quite familiar with this darker side of a wonderful industry. My maternal grandfather, Robert Darmody, died in a midair collision south of Las Vegas, NV on April 21, 1958. A USAF F-100F trainer out of Nellis collided with the United DC-7 carrying my grandfather and 46 other passengers and crew. In addition to some Cold War-era intrigue (Darmody was among a group of engineers onboard affiliated with the ballistic missile program) United 736 was also one of the landmark accidents that spurred the formation of the CAA, later to become the FAA.

That may explain why I tend to approach accidents from a forensic standpoint. I want to learn what happened, and I want to find lessons. This strictly analytical approach helped me in the early days of my career, as by definition it downplayed the very real, and often very sad, human element involved.

Trouble is, though, is that over time you begin to report about accidents involving people you know. You’re able to match smiling faces to the names listed in digitized pixels and cold newsprint. You remember shaking their hands, and sharing their stories. No amount of professional separation can stem this effect; you may think you can remain a dispassionate observer, but your emotions will always break through over time, because of course we’re all human.

Everyone reading this can relate to this, especially after such a difficult year as 2016 was for the CJP membership. The year was cruelly bookended by the January losses of Don and Dawn Baker, and then again in December with the crash that claimed John and Sue Fleming, their sons, Jack and Andrew, and two other friends of the family. (Since then, there was also the CJ4 landing overrun that, thankfully, was not fatal. Please get well soon, Pete.)

We are all processing the information that’s come out from these accidents, and the emotions involved. This message isn’t about that, though; what I do want to say is how proud you have all made me to be writing for this organization, due to the level of discourse I’ve seen on the forum discussions about these accidents, and others.

Online forums, whether public or restricted, can very much be a double-edged sword. They often yield extremely valuable insights and information about a given subject; many also inevitably devolve into so much pablum, noise, vitriol, and seemingly random deviations from anything resembling the original topic.

Not here, though. Not CJP, and especially not when it has come to our discussions about these accidents.

Here, I’ve found that everyone has been frank, honest, and largely respectful. Even the more heated exchanges have been rooted in the mutual understanding that all sides share a common goal: to learn the lessons necessary so that the same fates never befall anyone else. That’s not to say that it may still strike some as crass to speculate about potential causal factors, especially against the harsh backdrop of recent loss. Some of these discussions may still overstep a person’s personal boundaries of appropriate behavior in times of grief. That’s completely understandable.

Still, I hope that everyone here reads and contributes to those discussions, and above all, take lessons away from them that will help you fly your Citations that much more safely… because, I’ve seen your smiling faces. I’ve shaken your hands, and I’ve shared your stories.