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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

On the Ethics of Crashing

Just yesterday, it came to my attention that my friend Steve Cavallo had an engine failure and a forced landing late in June. He had departed Easton, MD (KESN) and was headed toward Gabreski Field (KFOK) in Westhampton, NY when the engine in his Cessna 210D quit over the waters off the south shore of Long Island.

Steve nursed the crippled Centurion to the shoreline and, in a remarkable display of airmanship, bellied it into a sandy lot behind the boardwalk at Robert Moses State Park. He was a little banged up but basically fine and no one on the ground had so much as a scratch.

Press articles describing the event can be found here, and here, and here. (The first story linked is the best.)

Steve Cavallo in a P-51 Mustang
I've written about Steve before. He is, in my view, a giant of aviation still flying with us. He flew as a test pilot for NACA during World War II and made incredibly valuable contributions to the war effort and to aviation progress. But today, I want to emphasize one quote from Steve, taken from one of the news accounts. He said this to a reporter:
“The main thing I was trying to do was not hurt anybody,” he said. “I would have opted to land on the beach—that would have been a cinch—but the beaches were full. The only thing that was open was this strip. If I didn’t go there, I think I would have been in a lot of trouble.”

That, I submit, is in the first place unsurprising given the experience and character of the man, and, in the second place, a humbling and vital lesson for the rest of us. As that silent powerless Cessna approached zero feet AGL Steve Cavallo was not preoccupied with his own safety and survival. He was determined to get the thing down without hurting people on the ground. Those folks never signed up to be Cessna-catchers!

I hope if any of us find ourselves in a similar situation we can work through the event with Steve's words in the back of our mind.

And...Steve, if you read this: Thanks for the lesson, you Great and Ancient Pelican. I'm happy that you're safe.

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