Friday, February 22, 2008


32 years ago today, just before noon pst, two planes lifted off from the airport at Ft. Ord, Ca. It was a perfect day. Not a cloud in the sky. It was Sunday. Our plane held 6 skydivers, one pilot; the second plane, an instructor with a student pilot. You couldn't have asked for a better day to be flying. And, to be sure, these 9 people were enjoying one of the most beautiful views the world has to offer: the Monterey Bay.

By chance, I was on the ground at the drop zone with my jumping buddy, John Plastini, along with other club members. Harry Oakes, Dick Williams, Rudy Ribbick, Tom Rains, and Joe Hankard, to name a few. I had just given up my seat to another jumper, Lt. Chris High. Two of us gave up our seats to last minute arrivals and I'm fairly certain John was the other. We almost always jumped together. Kathy Bradley took the second seat.

Then, about 15 minutes later, as if out of a bad movie, tragedy enters. In an instant, 5 of the 9 on board the two planes were gone from our lives. Just gone. And not a damn thing you could do about it. Tragedy works that way, especially in aviation. It can be very unforgiving.

31 years later, I would receive a letter from the granddaughter of the student pilot flying in the second plane. At the time, none of us knew the pilot, however, he was part of our history. And, although his granddaughter wasn't born yet, she, too, was part of our history. Here's her letter from July 2007:

Hello Dave,

I wanted to thank you for posting the memorial for those who were involved with the plane crash so many years ago.

Donald Waddell was my grandfather, whom I never had the opportunity to meet. My cousin found your article on a random search a few weeks ago.

I know that my family is very pleased to see that he is remembered. My grandmother would especially have appreciated it. Up until she died, the calendar in her bedroom was forever marked on that day. When I was a young girl, I always wondered why she had never changed the date, until I was older and learned the details of my grandfather's passing.

I feel that it is very important for those who remember to celebrate February 22 as a day of rememberance for those, kudos for the article!

Thank you,

Jennifer Waddell

NTSB reports here and here.

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