Monday, June 29, 2015

Death at Lake Ella

In the seven years I lived in Southeast Alaska, I flew in floatplanes probably a hundred times. I flew to lakes, burdened with rifle, an inflatable raft, and camping gear. I flew to backcountry cabins and to fires. Sometimes we flirted with the minimums, flying just under the cloud ceiling. Once a pilot asked us where we thought we were. Other times we could barely see. When the plane couldn't land and get us, we were stuck out in the wilderness for days. 

I never got scared when we flew. I flew with plenty of white-knucklers who did, though. We were supposed to say when we didn't feel comfortable, when we wanted to turn back, but none of us ever did. On one flight, we all wore our hard hats because our heads kept bumping the ceiling.

I knew planes fell from the sky. I spent days searching for one of them, and we never found anything. The earth or sea had swallowed a DeHavilland Beaver up completely. This was eleven years ago, and nobody has found any trace. I think of the five people sometimes and wonder where they are, and if they will ever go home.

Last week, nine people died on a flightseeing excursion in Misty Fiords National Monument. They were on an Alaskan cruise and had opted to take this trip. People die in Alaska all the time but I was amazed to learn that I knew one of the tourists on board.

Margie was someone I had worked with on a project in Nevada, and I wouldn't say we were friends. We were commiserators in arms, often discussing the challenges of our program. I only met her in person a couple of times, and we talked on the phone a few more. Last year she decided to retire. Then she and her husband boarded a floatplane last week and their lives ended at Lake Ella.

We all go sometime, and maybe to be with the person you love the most, in a wild and beautiful place, is better than lingering in a hospital. We don't really get to choose, although some people do by their lifestyles. What I've learned from this is: don't wait. Not for me, ten more years at a computer; I'll take the considerable penalty and retire from this job in six years. If I could go sooner, I would. You have to take every day and have something great from it. Even if it's just one minute outside in the sun. One walk. One kiss. 

And to lighten the mood: I just spent three days in a vortex! Coming soon, the near escape...


  1. You may have not been anxious during those Alaskan small plane trips, but we can certainly understand those who were! You must have had some good pilots. So sad for the Lake Ella ending for nine and for their families. We don't often get a choice for our ending and they had no choice, but Misty Fjords is indeed a beautiful (and apparently treacherous) place.

  2. It takes a lot of experience to fly there. It will be interesting to see what went wrong.


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