There are people who think the number 13 is bad luck. It was DH’s favorite number. He had a perverse view of some things and that was one of them. Some hotels don’t have a 13th floor. Maybe I shouldn’t have a Part XIII but I’ll honor DH with it and let it stand. Besides, it’s appropriate that relating the story of the Crash should fall right here.
I have been looking back over the last chapters and they are less and less about the boys and me and more and more about DH. That was what our lives were, though. They were governed by DH and his activities and we took a back seat. Seems I hadn’t realized that until now. This recounting of history may end up teaching me something.
First of all (if this qualifies as first in the third paragraph), I must apologize for the cheesy way I ended the last installment. It was late, I was sleepy, and it wasn’t too imaginative. So…let’s pick up where I left off.
The reason we got separated on that dark (by then) highway was because I was fascinated by the storm off in the distance. I kept driving more and more slowly and the driver I was following didn’t realize I was no longer right behind him until I wasn’t. Obviously. When we were missed, they turned around, came back, and found us. We pulled both vehicles off the road and DH let me know just how alarmed he’d been. It was kind of nice to know he cared that much. Of course, I was hauling his hang glider plus another one the Sun owner had fronted him. Kind of a cynical way to look at it but who knows?
The other hang glider was a foot shorter on the leading edge and made up of various shades of warm colors going from gold to red. It was a beautiful flying machine but that company only made beautiful ones.
We got to Albuquerque and found a place to park for the rest of the night. Our interim destination was the foot of Sandia Peak. The flyers were to take the tram to the top the next morning and fly down.
The day dawned with beautiful blue skies and the wind was blowing toward the mountain. Perfect for hang gliding. The boys and I waited on the observation deck near the tram and watched for kites in the sky. DH had decided this was the time to try out the smaller hang glider. It flew well but less area made for more speed than he was used to. He wasn’t quite comfortable with it. He took his own up and enjoyed the trip much more.
After the boys and I took a ride on the tram, it was time to leave. I wasn’t looking forward to the long trek back to Tennessee. I loved the wide open spaces.
When we got home, it was back to our old routine. It was the end of June and summer was stretching out ahead of us. DS2 still couldn’t go swimming and that was a source of endless frustration.
The first weekend of July, we were off to Chattanooga and Trash Hill. This time, DH was going to try soaring the ridge with the small Sun. He’d been pretty much taking off and landing up until then. He took off and turned to follow the mountain and catch the lift from the wind blowing toward it. There were a couple of other pilots who were flying with him. After several miles, he couldn’t penetrate any farther and had to fly down into the valley to land.
Now, one of the cardinal rules of hang gliding is to make sure the landing area is safe. And one of my own rules was don’t leave your wife on the mountainside when she has no idea where you are and if you are okay. It seemed hours had gone by with no word and then a man came by and said he’d heard a pilot was in trouble. He’d been caught in the jet stream and was tumbling out of control. I had more sense than to believe that but it still make me nervous.
The boys, my friend (her boyfriend was one of the other pilots), and I got in the van and started out looking for someone, anyone, who knew where they’d landed. We spied some people who let us know the general area. They said one of the flyers was down and hurt. I had to make myself drive within the speed limit.
We took a road that paralleled the mountain and finally saw three hang gliders off in a field—and an ambulance. The paramedics were loading someone in and I could tell the smaller Sun had sustained some damage. It was DH! And there was no way for me to get to him.
From what I was able to gather later, after he was unable to go any farther, the three of them headed for a field they had never landed in before. The other two were able to navigate over the power lines okay but DH was flying the small Sun. He was coming in too fast with not enough altitude to clear the lines so he chose the only other option. That was to dive under them and he pancaked into the ground. Had he hit the lines, it would have been certain death. As it was, his heart had stopped beating and he was unresponsive. The other two worked on him and brought him back with CPR. Someone had seen the crash and had gone to a nearby house to call for help. No cell phones then, you know.
The ambulance drove carefully over the rough ground to get out of the field and I pulled in behind as soon as I could. The accident happened in Georgia so he was being taken to a Georgia hospital but they had to go through Chattanooga (Tennessee) to get there. The ambulance had lights flashing and siren screaming but a driver ignored it all and started through the intersection. The ambulance and car collided. I was in such a fog that I didn’t know what was going on until my friend pointed out that DH’s ambulance was the one that had wrecked and he was being transferred to yet another ambulance.
That accident turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and boy! was it well disguised. The hospital they had been taking him to was a small rural hospital but now he was on his way to the largest trauma center in the area. He would have probably been transferred there eventually but he took a shortcut.
I was just about beside myself. My friend took over with the boys and kept them occupied. She insisted on taking them to get something to eat but I had no appetite. I was pacing and wringing my hands. DH was in the emergency room and I wasn’t allowed. I would be in the way but I did so want to see him and make sure he was okay.
Finally, he was put in a room and I went in. He had third nerve damage in his left eye which caused the lid to droop. He couldn’t open it at all. The doctors were more concerned about blood in his spinal fluid. He’d fractured his left elbow but there were no other broken bones.
Our friends were Godsends. The boys and I stayed at their house while DH was in the hospital and they even fed us. We went to her grandfather’s place and got garden truck and the first fresh figs I ever ate. Luscious! She also let me drive her Mustang and I discovered I had to seatbelt a bag of groceries in because the car wouldn’t start otherwise.
I spent a lot of time at the hospital while the boys were looked after by our new guardian angels. DH’s parents came to see him and his mother advised the nurses to discharge him ASAP because he didn’t have any insurance. I don’t know where she got that idea because I still had coverage through my policy at the factory. As a matter of fact, since it was an accident, it paid 100% and that was when there were no courtesy write-offs.
After five days, the doctors discharged DH and advised him to go to the VA for followup visits. They never found what caused the blood in his spinal fluid. The prognosis concerning his eye was guarded. The elbow could be tricky. He was depressed.
We went home and I was called back to work, eventually. DH couldn’t do anything but recuperate and keep the boys hopping waiting on him. He lost his medical certificate that was required for flying. That was the hardest thing of all. In just a few seconds, he’d lost his ability to fly for a living and the freedom he felt when he was airborne. Plus I was the sole breadwinner and it made him feel inadequate.
Life was hard. Could it get much worse?