Saturday, April 30, 2011


Good news:  Learned how to remove the stretcher loading system (this thing that swings out and looks like a pirate-ship plank, that we slide our stretcher onto) from the helicopter. 

Bad news:  Had to figure out how to remove the stretcher loading system from the helicopter in order to clean yucky stuff out from under the stretcher loading system.

In other semi-work-related news, realized how badly out of practice I am at working multiple bases when I had to go out and buy toothbrush, razor, deodorant, etc., at the nearest Mini-Mart.  And I had been so proud of myself for remembering my boots and jacket and helmet liner!  Ah well ...

Back to Flagstaff in the morning.

Good night all.  Love and hugs!

Friday, April 29, 2011


Sleep accomplished!  Actually making it all the way to the book-writing portion of my agenda tonight -- did NOT see that coming several hours ago.

This afternoon and evening have been sprinkled with grace notes like that:  A bird's-eye view of the Hoover Dam and its new bypass bridge on the way back from our flight earlier; the flight itself (first time to Las Vegas in awhile -- it's a ghost town compared to a few years ago, but still fun to fly over); the nap; falling asleep and waking up to wild grasses and clover blowing in the wind right outside my window; a really charming spontaneous story on Twitter; little bits and pieces of time with friends new and old.

I love my job, and my life in general, but it's always a special treat when a day ends up a whole lot better than you expected it to.

Currently wrestling with VANISHED's "Saturday Morning in the City of Angels" chapter.  After trying every way I could think of for several years to figure out which crash victims' stories to tell when, I finally decided to just introduce the passengers I have the best pre-flight stories about in this chapter, then talk about the flight crews and everyone else in the airplane-specific chapters.  Tried that out of sheer frustration at first, but it works better than anything else did.

At the moment, trying to figure how much to say about Disneyland.

Disneyland opened the summer before the mid-air, and was still the subject of media saturation-coverage (ads in every newspaper and magazine, its own TV show, you name it) at the time of the crash.  At least one family, the Kites, were returning from a trip to Disneyland that Saturday morning.  TWA was one of the most prominent corporate sponsors in the park.  All that definitely goes in the book.

But then there's this home movie, Disneyland Dreams ( ...

It was filmed by a family that won a 1956 trip to Disneyland in a Scotch Tape contest.  Among many other cool things, it captured an 11-year-old Steve Martin working as a top-hatted Disneyland street vendor.  It's the best representation of what a visit to Disneyland and Southern California in 1956 would have been like that I can find ... and I'm thinking I'm gonna include a lengthy description of Disneyland Dreams in my introduction of the Kites.

I'd been thinking of cutting Disneyland Dreams out of the chapter (I often worry that VANISHED is gonna end up the size of the New York City phone book) ... but now that I tell you about it ...

... I'm thinking I'd be crazy not to include it.  In fact, now I'm wondering if "Disneyland Dreams" might not make a better chapter title than "Saturday Morning in the City of Angels"?

What do you all think?

Good night everyone.  Thanks for all your help and support!


Still running on fumes, sleep-wise, so gonna try again for a nap.  Just in case we get another flight, or I sleep past midnight, gonna go ahead and post this so everyone knows all's well with me.

Hugs and love, everyone.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


After passing through Kingman twice this week already, I just found out from my boss that I'm going to be working out there tomorrow, too.  Someone had a last-minute emergency, and apparently this is a big biker run weekend out there, so off I go to Angel 2 bright and early in the morning.

I used to work out there a lot, but since we went to fixed bases a couple years ago, I think I've been there ... once or twice?

So should be interesting.  But since it also adds a couple extra hours to my commute and pre-shift prep time, I'm afraid I'm going to have to skimp on the blogging again tonight.  I'll leave you with some more photos -- these are from the 1957 Life Magazine article describing the crash investigation and its conclusions.

Thanks for the emails -- will try to reply later tonight tonight or tomorrow!

In response to the question about Bud Allen and the jump seat, both planes apparently were full.  This makes me suspect Allen rode in the jump seat, as does the fact that he was listed in the accident investigation report as "aboard as an additional crew member".  Janice Heiser, an off-duty hostess (and roommate of hostess Beth Davis) who was also aboard, was not referred to in this fashion.

Good night, everybody!  More tomorrow from Kingman, dispatch permitting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


So nothing VANISHED-related to report tonight, I'm afraid.

Stopped at Chiriaco Summit, just East of Palm Springs.  Down the street from the General George S. Patton Museum, which is pretty nifty if you like tanks, or even just bigger-than-life-size statues of people and their dogs (Patton had a Spuds McKenzie dog - a bull terrier? Yes!  Thanks, Google - and there's a pony-sized bronze of him next to the giant General).

The last couple of days have been hectic, but good.  My son's computer crashed hard and repeatedly (blue screen after blue screen), taking his due-yesterday English paper with it, night before last, but he was able to get a half-day extension , and with a very small amount of IT support from me, and a good old-fashioned college all-nighter from him, both paper and computer turned out all right in the end.

He's a pretty awesome guy, Sam is.

He only needed one tiny bit of help with the paper from me:  At 6:30 this morning I found it both disorienting and heart-warming to stumble out of bed, not to change his diaper or get him a bottle (wasn't that long ago I was doing both of those, was it??), but to help him figure out how to cite a U.S. Supreme Court opinion in MLA format.

Okay, back on the road I go.  Good night all.  Love and hugs and good wishes from Chiriaco Summit.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


One of my all-time favorite quotes*, from the 1982 film Blade Runner:

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate**. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

We, each of us, are fragile vessels containing so many unique moments -- most of which will die with us.
I think this is often why we write, and read.  Why we love to tell stories, and love to hear them.

To keep a few of these moments from being washed away.

One of my moments:  A few years ago I mentioned this quote to my dad ... who surprised me by saying that he'd often had the same thought.

Tonight, without even realizing she was doing it, a friend of mine rescued another of my moments from wherever I'd misplaced it for the last thirty-odd years.

When I was in the fifth grade, we used to go to high school hockey games at our local skating rink in Littleton, Colorado.  I doubt I'd even remembered that a half-dozen times since I was old enough to shave.

Tonight, all of a sudden, I could smell the chilly air, taste the too-salty popcorn and the fizzy tang of Coca Cola and the paper (straw, or cup, I'm not sure which) I was drinking it through, or from.  Hear the clatter of skates and sticks and cheers echoing.  Feel the bleachers vibrate and shift beneath us.  Savor the fact that I was up past my usual weeknight bedtime, part of something big and exciting and almost-adult, happy and a little scared that one of these years before too long I'd be old enough to be out there on this same ice, skating for this same team***.  Anticipate the way my boots would squelch across the wet black rubber mats on the way out to our car in the even colder snowy parking lot.

And -- typical, even back then -- picture the book I had brought with me to read before the game and during the breaks in play:  Planet of the Apes, by Pierre Boulle.

Thanks, Melissa.

And thank you and Charles and Lynda and Jessica and Paloma and Brandy for following this blog!

Good night, everybody.  Back to Arizona -- and back to work on VANISHED -- tomorrow.

* And apparently I'm not the only one who likes it.  Turns out this quote has its own FaceBook page, which 313 people Like:

** I always thought he was saying -- and always pictured -- sea-beams:  Underwater beams of light.  And would have SWORN the Tanhauser Gate was a real place in ... Berlin? ... but:

***  Or not.  We moved back to Southern California the following year, and I haven't been to a hockey game since.  But now I'm thinking I'd like to go to one again sometime soon ...

Monday, April 25, 2011


Good evening from the Love's Travel Stop in windy Kingman, Arizona!

Just wanted to let everyone know that I'll be on the road for the next few days:  Driving out to Southern California to see my son, parents, and sister (who's visiting from Austin) for a belated Easter.

On a semi-book-related note, although TWA has "flown West" (pilot-speak for died), if you're ever driving along the I-40 through Kingman you can still see airliners in the distinctive red-and-white TWA livery at the airport here.  Like Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, the Kingman airport features a "boneyard" where aging aircraft are stored more-or-less intact for decades after their final flights.

Although the term "flown West" has been used by aviators since the First World War to describe fallen comrades, the concept actually goes back to at least the ancient Egyptians, who believed that the Kingdom of the Dead lay somewhere in the West.  Since the Sun appears to "die" in the West each evening, the conceptual link between the West and death probably predates even the earliest human civilizations.

I decided to call my book VANISHED IN THE WEST partly because of this little bit of aviation- / death-related trivia, and partly because of one of the first New York Times headlines about the air disaster:  "TWO GIANT AIRLINERS VANISH IN WEST".

Okay, I'd better stop blogging and do some more driving.  Good night, everybody.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


Happy Easter, everybody!

At first it looked like Easter Sunday was going to start off as busy as Black Saturday had for us:  A few minutes after midnight our crew phones started playing their "dispatch is texting you" ring tones.  My head had literally just hit the pillow (I don't think there's a pressure-activated switch in there, but sometimes I wonder).  I muttered something non-Easter-ish, grabbed my phone, and looked to see what adventures awaited us.


Probably good news:  We're supposed to get an extra page at the end of each flight listing our "fractional miles", because Medicare in its infinite wisdom recently decided that rounding the distance we fly each patient to the nearest mile wasn't accurate enough.  Now they want want our mileages to include tenths of miles as well (528 feet, in a helicopter -- seriously, Medicare?), which requires extra calculations and a separate text message.  So this was either an extremely late page for our flight twelve hours before, or a complete misfire.

Called dispatch.  Determined that it was indeed a complete misfire (intended for one of our other helicopters).  Counted my Easter blessings, and went back to bed.

Well, eventually went back to bed.  A couple hours later.  There's always a certain amount of adrenaline produced by that phone going off when you're in bed -- even if you've just gotten into bed -- so even false alarms tend to cost us some sleep.

Woke up fairly late this morning.  Walked out into the living room to find that the Easter Bunny had left me a big bag full of paper grass and candy (I work with some pretty cool people; have I ever mentioned that?).

Other than a couple more false alarms (standy-bys for accidents that didn't end up requiring a helicopter), nothing else flight-related has happened so far today.

So I've spent the day chatting with pilot, nurse, and mechanic, sending and receiving Easter messages, working on continuing education paperwork, napping a bit, and chipping away at VANISHED.

One thing I haven't been good at this last week is inviting people to this blog.  I've mentioned it to a few family members, some co-workers, listed it on my Twitter profile.  I've been very pleasantly surprised at how many views just that wee bit of publicizing has generated.  But I still have hundreds of VANISHED-related contacts I need to email ... and I'm still horribly embarrassed at how long I've been out of most touch with most of them.

So tonight, without further ado (and as always when at work, dispatch willing), I'm  gonna start emailing invites.

Good night everybody.

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Hi again from Cottonwood!  I'll be your Angel 3 paramedic for the Easter weekend.

Some holidays / annual events tend to keep us EMS types busier than others.  No two are ever alike, of course, and one crew may get slammed while a nearby crew twiddles their thumbs all shift.  But I have noticed some patterns over the years.

Memorial and Labor Day weekends are usually crazy-busy, especially on the front end:  lots of bad wrecks while everyone's trying to get wherever they're going for the weekend.  Hardly anyone calls for an ambulance or a helicopter during the Super Bowl.

The rest of 'em generally fall somewhere in between those two extremes:  Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually pretty mellow, Halloween and New Year's Eve, not so much.

It's been awhile since I worked an Easter weekend, so I couldn't remember how they tended to go.  The answer for us so far this year:  Busy start, then nothing much.

We actually started off this morning with a public relations event (PR) -- a mock mass-casualty-incident (MCI) at the local fire academy.  We do this particular PR a couple times a year, landing, loading a volunteer moulaged (medical make-up) to look badly injured, and flying him or her to back to our hospital.  It's part of the student firefighters' final exam.  It gives them a chance to work around the helicopter, and it exposes them to the chaos and confusion that are inevitable parts of any MCI, real or simulated.  It's also good practice for us, and for the hospital, which is simultaneously deluged with "less seriously injured patients" brought in by ground ambulances.

The fun began for us even before takeoff, as we tracked all the weekend pilots taking off and landing at our nearby local airport -- joined this morning by several skydivers -- and discussed how we'd need to orbit for a bit with the "patient" so we'd have time to radio the hospital and let them know we were on our way (our actual flight time would be about one minute).

We lifted, successfully dodging small planes and parachutes, zipped over to the fire academy, and started orbiting while we made radio contact with our landing zone (LZ) officer.  He briefed us on nearby obstructions, wind direction and speed, and told us to land next to the backhoe.  All well and good ... except that we couldn't spot the backhoe.  Or any fire trucks, or ambulances, or anyone else.

Like I said, chaos and confusion, every time.  A good MCI is one where you keep miscommunications to a minimum; you can never eliminate them entirely.

This morning was a good MCI.  Almost immediately we spotted backhoe, big red trucks, and so forth at the community college campus adjacent to the fire academy.  Landed, got our "patient", lifted, orbited, called the hospital, landed, wheeled him inside, turned him over to the ER doc -- and promptly got called out on a real emergency flight.

Since then ... paperwork, a nap, more paperwork.  A visit from some of the local firefighters, and from some of our pilot's motorcycle buddies.

Pilot and nurse both turned in about an hour ago.  I'll probably do the same soon.  First, though, I thought I'd share one of the many, many stories I've come across while researching VANISHED.


On Monday, July 2, 1956, a "$100,000 fire" destroyed the Menzie Dairy Co. in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

The dairy's owner, John L. Laughlin, did not go to the fire.  "That loss is replaceable," he said, "but nothing can bring back Sally."

Sally Laughlin, 20, was John's youngest daughter.  She was a student at Pennsylvania State University.  Two days before the dairy fire, Sally boarded United Flight 718 in Los Angeles to return home from the Pi Phi Sorority's 40th annual convention, a six-day event held at the Huntington-Sheraton Hotel in Pasadena, California.

Several Pi Phi student and alumni delegates were killed in the mid-air.  There were at least two of them aboard each of the doomed airliners.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I said in my first post that I'd been working on VANISHED for going on seven years.  Actually, it's been more like seven and a half years:   I first saw the "old photograph" of the woman kneeling at the TWA mass grave in Flagstaff that started me on the path to writing this book in November of 2003.

In those seven and a half years I've learned more about the 1956 Grand Canyon air disaster and its victims than I ever would have thought possible back in '03.  But I still have a lot of unanswered questions.

The answers to some of them died with the passengers and crew members of TWA 2 and UAL 718.  But the answers to others may still be "out there", waiting to be revealed ... maybe by some of you.

Here are some of the questions I'd most love to learn the answers to:

  1. Are there any surviving photographs of the Mainliner Vancouver (UAL DC-7, N6324C)?
  2. Are there any photographs of the aircraft / passengers / crew members taken at LAX on the morning of June 30, 1956?  Or for that matter, any photographs / post cards / letters / etc. relating to the crash victims dating from shortly before the crash?
  3. Who was the TWA employee named "Miller" on whose TWA pass crash victim Robert Ernest Sanders was traveling?
  4. Are there any surviving copies of any of the television / newsreel / radio reports about the crash?
  5. Who was the lady who reported seeing smoke in the Canyon from the Desert Watchtower on the afternoon of June 30, 1956?
  6. Was there really a young Navajo girl ("Yazzie Gray Eyes") who also reported seeing smoke in the Canyon that day?
  7. Are there any surviving copies of the July 1, 1956 Extra edition of the Flagstaff newspaper?
  8. What was the source of the "Ancient Indian Legend" regarding a protective spirit in the Canyon referred to in the Los Angeles Times on July 3, 1956?
  9. Whatever happened to the fund Arizona Governor McFarland established to build a memorial to the crash victims at the Grand Canyon?
  10. Did "Mary and Robert Hickman" (the alleged 129th and 130th victims of the crash) really exist?  Were they really on board one of the aircraft involved in the mid-air?  If so, who was the pilot / relative of theirs who brought them aboard?  Whatever happened to "Mrs. Annie S. Hickman", the person who reported that they had died in the crash?
  11. Were there seat assignments on either / both aircraft?  Former airline employees I've spoken with believe it unlikely that there was assigned seating on either flight ... but obtaining a copy of the victims' seat assignments, if they existed, would be something like my personal Holy Grail of crash-related research (I'd LOVE to know who sat where on each plane, and who sat next to whom).
  12. Does anyone have photographs of (or more info about) the following crash victims?
    • John A. Barry (TWA passenger)
    • Staff Sgt. Robert Vernon Beatty (TWA passenger)
    • Rosemary Ferry Bishop (TWA passenger)
    • Stephen Bishop (TWA passenger), Rosemary's infant son
    • Gertrude Agnes Coyne Book (UAL 718 passenger)
    • Milton Barry Carlton  (UAL 718 passenger)
    • Carol Jean Church (UAL 718 passenger), age 6; traveling with her grandfather, Albert Vogt
    • Frank H. Clark (UAL 718 passenger)
    • Leon David Cook, Jr. (UAL 718 passenger)
    • Chester Arnold Crewse (TWA passenger)
    • Helen Colleen Crewse (TWA passenger), Chester's 15-year-old daughter
    • Selma Louise Davis (TWA passenger)
    • Robert Earle DeLonge (TWA passenger)
    • Elizabeth Francis Doering (UAL passenger)
    • Lt. Thomas W. Doyle (UAL passenger)
    • Almeda Inez (Babb) Evans (TWA passenger)
    • Donald Lloyd Flentie (TWA passenger)
    • Stella Blum Fuchs (UAL passenger)
    • Walter M. Fuchs (UAL passenger), husband of Stella
    • Janice Tracy Haas (TWA passenger)
    • James K. Hadfield (UAL passenger)
    • Lillian Ruth Hahn (UAL passenger)
    • Mary Hickman (alleged TWA or UAL passenger)
    • Robert Hickman (alleged TWA or UAL passenger)
    •  Eugene B. Hoffman (UAL passenger)
    • Harry Robinson Holman (TWA passenger) - supposedly "knew the pilot" - which one?
    • Russell Charles Huber (UAL passenger)
    • Wayne Gardner Jeffrey (TWA passenger)
    • Francis Robert Johlie III (UAL passenger)
    • Sidney Roland Joslin (TWA passenger)
    • Donald F. Kiel (UAL passenger)
    • Ted M. Kubiniec (UAL passenger)
    • Ray Oliver Lasby (UAL passenger)
    • Sally Lou Laughlin (UAL passenger)
    • Lois Marie Laxton (TWA passenger)
    • Michael Anthony Laxton (TWA passenger), 4-year-old son of Lois
    • Howard John Maag (TWA passenger), infant son of crash victims John & Claire Maag
    • William H. Markey, Jr. (TWA passenger) - brother of crash investigator W. Dixon Markey
    •  Carl G. Matland (UAL passenger)
    • John J. Muldoon (UAL passenger)
    • Gerald Murchison (UAL passenger)
    • Dwight B. Nims (UAL passenger)
    • Floyd A. Nixon (UAL passenger)
    • Marietta Thompson Noel (TWA passenger), wife of crash victim Richard Curtis Noel
    • Elsie W. Osterbock (UAL passenger)
    • Commander John Walker Payne, USN, Ret. (TWA passenger)
    • Hugo Pekruhn (UAL passenger)
    • Neal Alan Power (TWA passenger)
    • David Karn Robinson (TWA passenger), 11-year-old son of Jeannette
    • Geoffrey Brian Robinson (TWA passenger), 8-year-old son of Jeannette
    • Jeannette Karn Robinson (TWA passenger)
    • Alexander Eugene Rosenblatt (UAL passenger)
    • Esther Fair Sharp (TWA passenger) - corresponding secretary for the NAACP
    • Russell A. Shields, Jr. (UAL passenger)
    • Thomas J. Sulpizio (UAL passenger)
    • Donald L. Winings (UAL passenger)
That's it for tonight; I work tomorrow and Sunday.  Happy Easter, everybody!

Thursday, April 21, 2011


TWA Flight 2

TWA Flight 2 - Captain

TWA Flight 2 - Copilot

TWA Flight 2 - Flight Engineer

TWA Flight 2 - Flight Engineer "(aboard as an additional crew member)":  Not an on-duty flight crew member; most likely riding in the jump seat (an extra seat) in the Super Constellation's cockpit; recently transferred from TWA's Kansas City base to Los Angeles, family still in Kansas City; traveling back to Kansas City for a visit.

TWA Flight 2 - Hostess

                                                                                        Beth Ellis Davis                                                                                           TWA Flight 2 - Hostess

United Flight 718

United Flight 718 - Captain

Robert W. Harms
United Flight 718 - Copilot

Girardo X. Fiore
United Flight 718 - Flight Engineer
United Flight 718 - Stewardess

United Flight 718 - Stewardess

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Good evening, all.  Here are some of the photos that will be included in the book:

I'm thinking I'd like to use these three on the book's cover:

1. TWA Super Constellation over the Grand Canyon.

(This is a TWA publicity photo of an identical sister ship of the Star of the Seine, the TWA Super Constellation involved in the June 30, 1956 mid-air.)

Although several black-and-white photographs of the Star of the Seine do exist -- some of which I do plan to include in the book -- I prefer this photo for the cover because (1) it's in color, and (2) it shows the Canyon in the background.

2. United DC-7

(This photograph of the Mainliner Hollywood, an identical sister ship of the Mainliner Vancouver, the United DC-7 involved in the June 30, 1956 mid-air, was used on United postcards distributed on its DC-7 flights.)

There are no known photographs of the Mainliner Vancouver; if you have one, I'd love a copy!

 3. Wreckage from June 30, 1956 mid-air.

(This is the United crash site atop Chuar Butte; I believe that's Cape Solitude, on the opposite side of the Colorado River from the crash sites, in the background.)

 I'd like to use this photo either for the back cover of the book, or as the background for the two color photos on the front cover.

More photographs tomorrow!  Good night, all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


I think my four hours or so of sleep last night have done worn off.

No more flights since my last post.  But three adjoining bedrooms with sticky doors and thin walls seldom make for uninterrupted slumber ... and whenever one of us hears one of the other two moving around in the wee hours, our first sleepy thought is that our own crew phone is about to go off ... so we tend to lie there half-awake for big chunks of the night, even when we're not being serenaded by the loading dock folks.

Throw in some time shaved off either end of last night studying for run review, the usual morning pre-shift-change chores, a quick dash back up the hill to Flagstaff, and a fun-filled day sitting in class, saving the lives of mannequins, and taking written tests, and I was about ready for bed again by the time it started to get dark.


Went out to dinner with my son, Sam, and his mom this evening.  He's in town for the week on his spring break, and is splitting his time between her place and mine.

Driving home tonight, I noticed that the city still shows no signs of further interest in a four-lane road they stripped of its top inch or two of asphalt about a week ago.  I'm sure they used some highly specialized device to do this, and even have plans to repave it at some point.  For now, though, it looks and feels like someone just ran a backhoe -- or maybe a snow plow -- back and forth with its blade down until  all the lane lines were gone, then got bored and wandered off.

The double left turn lane onto my street is especially entertaining.  A lot of us remember it where it used to be, and maneuver accordingly;  others slam on their brakes half a block back, staring at the extra line of stopped cars in what appears to be the middle of the road as if we've all gone insane.

Good night, all.  More VANISHED tomorrow.

Monday, April 18, 2011


'Twas the 18th of April, '75.
Hardly a man is now alive
who remembers that famous day and year.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere"

(That means that tomorrow must be the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the start of the American Revolutionary War.)

This is the only poem I ever memorized.  'Twas in the fifth grade, in Littleton, CO -- I can remember sitting in the school library at Carl Sandburg Elementary, reading it over and over, muttering the words under my breath -- but I don't even remember if it was for an assignment, or if I just thought it was interesting.

Thinking about it tonight, I'm amazed at how many bits and pieces of "The Midnight Ride" I still recall:  Might not be able to recite the whole thing, but could probably muddle my way through at least the first half.

I remember reading a lot of books in that library, including at least a couple of something called the Danny Dunne series:  Danny Dunne and the Homework Machine (my first exposure to the idea of a personal computer), and Danny Dunne and the Time Machine (wherein Danny went back to the Revolutionary War and met George Washington).  So memorizing "The Midnight Ride" could very well have been just for fun, part of a Revolutionary War binge.

I was like that, as a kid.  Can remember devouring whatever I could find on the First World War -- specifically anything to do with the Red Baron -- after hearing a Christmas song called "Snoopy and the Red Baron" (which may have come with a ViewMaster ... disk? ... does anyone remember those?  like a little stereoscopic slide viewer for kids?).  Then later doing the same thing for the Second World War after our third grade teacher read us some book that mentioned Hitler -- first time I'd ever heard of him or his war.

Do they still have Scholastic Books that kids can order at school?  I can still remember a bunch of those, from probably the second grade through the sixth grade -- and how cool it was to order them, and to have them delivered to the classroom.  Still have a few of them, in fact.

Okay, that's enough trips down memory lane for me for tonight.  Run review tomorrow, and still a little over eight hours left of this shift.  Only one flight so far - hopefully if we have any more tonight, they'll be short hops.

Good night, all!


Sunday, April 17, 2011


Greetings from Cottonwood, Arizona!

I'm here at my day job -- which actually lasts two days and two nights at a time (Sunday morning - Tuesday morning, in this case) --  working as the flight paramedic aboard Angel 3, the Guardian Air / Verde Valley Medical Center EMS helicopter.

When we're not out saving lives (or at least moving 'em from point A to point B very quickly) in our red-white-and-blue Bell 407 helicopter, we (the pilot, the flight nurse, and me) hang out in our crew quarters, which include a living room, kitchen, bathrooms, supply room, laundry room, and a bedroom for each of us.

Our quarters are located in a little steel frame building that used to be a fire station, between the big Baptist church next door, the Emergency Department (ED) entrance a hundred yards or so behind us, ... and the hospital loading docks, right outside our bedroom windows.  Despite the whole "hospital - quiet zone" thing, the loading dock folks occasionally like to unload semi-trucks (sometimes with their backup alarms left on), rearrange dumpsters, and similar quiet-zone-friendly activities, at all hours of the day and night ... so we tend to sleep with fans turned on high or other forms of white noise.

We each carry a cell phone which links us to our dispatch at the airport in Flagstaff; when it goes off, we know our services are required.  The specifics of our mission, as far as dispatch can piece them together, are texted to us.  We climb into our flight suits, grab helmets, drug bag, laptop (for charting), handheld two-way radio, and night-vision goggles, and walk out the back door to our waiting aircraft, which sits on a concrete helipad right outside the ED entrance.

Besides working our shifts and keeping our professional licenses / certificates current, we med crew types are required to maintain a whole range of "alphabet soup" certifications:  Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP), Transport Nurse Advanced Trauma Course (TNATC).  We also spend a certain number of hours per year working clinical shifts in the ED, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and the Pediatric ICU (PICU), and intubating patients in the operating room (OR).

Last but not least, we attend run reviews -- combination employee meetings, training / testing sessions, and actual reviews of selected flights -- every month, either in person at Guardian Air's main base at the Flagstaff airport, or by video conference at one of our Northern Arizona satellite bases (Kingman, Cottonwood, Winslow, and Show Low).

At this month's run review -- which starts at 9AM Tuesday, an hour after we get off-shift -- we'll be tested on our maternal and neonatal practice guidelines and skills (transporting pregnant women, delivering babies, taking care of newborns, that kinda thing) ...

... which means that in between flights this shift, I'm going to be reviewing baby-n-birthin' stuff instead of working on the book.  I'll get back to VANISHED sometime late Tuesday or Wednesday.

VANISHED-related updates for today:
  • It's been suggested to me that I may not want to post the entire book on this blog, even one rough-draft chunk at a time, so as to maximize the number of people who'll actually buy the book once it's finished; what do the rest of you think?  Makes a lot of sense to me, but at the same time I hate to keep folks who've already waited most of a decade to read the thing in suspense for another year or two.  Some of you, I know, have been waiting almost fifty-five years to hear the complete story of this crash.
  • In reading over the outline I posted yesterday, I realized that Chapters 9-12 should actually appear in the following order:  10, 12, 9, 11.  I'll post a revised outline sometime soon.
  • In fact, maybe that'd be the ideal compromise solution for posting parts of the book on here:  Just post summaries of each chapter in more or less the detail I included for Chapter 1 yesterday, answer specific questions about the crash (maybe by posting the relevant passages from the VANISHED draft manuscript), and make the entire draft manuscript available for proof-reading to a selected few of you.  How does that sound to everybody?  Anyone like to volunteer to be a proof-reader?
Well, that's about all I've got for tonight -- except for a really cool coat of arms, which I discovered by Googling the name of the home town of my latest follower on Twitter (thanks, Cristin!):

"The arms of Coudekerque-Branche are blazoned :
Sable, a hedgehog argent crowned Or."

Good night, everybody!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Hey again, everyone!

I suspect there's a more elegant way to do this than cutting-and-pasting (still lots to learn), but for now that ought to do the trick, so here without further ado is the cleanest version of the book outline I could lay hands on today:

Prologue:  An Old Photograph
Did you leave any wife or a sweetheart behind?  In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined?
Although you died back in 1916, in some faithful heart are you forever nineteen?
Or are you a stranger without even a name, enclosed down forever behind a glass frame,
in an old photograph, torn, tattered and stained, and faded to yellow in a brown leather frame?
THE GREEN FIELDS OF FRANCE, Eric Bogle (as sung by Makem and  Clancy)
·         An old black-and-white photograph, of a woman kneeling at the “TWA Mass Grave in Flagstaff”, started me on the path to writing this book in November 2003.
·         After a little online research, I realized that I vaguely recalled hearing of a mid-air collision between two airliners over the Grand Canyon in the 1950s, but after living in Flagstaff for over two years had never heard of TWA grave.
·         A visit to the cemetery, where a bronze marker listed dozens of names – many of the last names repeated over and over – left me wondering who the crash victims were, and whether anyone still knew their stories.
·         An email correspondence with the sister of one of the flight attendants killed in the crash, her sister’s photograph and story, and the fact that no book had ever been written about this tragedy, convinced me to start the project that would eventually become VANISHED IN THE WEST.
Chapter One:  Wings of Freedom, Wings of Death
Beware, dear son of my heart, lest in thy new-found power thou seekest even the gates of Olympus....These wings may bring thy freedom but may also come thy death.
Daedalus to Icarus
·         “You might as well get in.”  (Fort Meyer, Virginia / Thursday, September 17, 1908)
Orville Wright and his less-than-welcome passenger, fellow aviator (and, Orville feared, potential rival) Lt. Thomas Selfridge, prepare to take the Wright Flyer aloft for the latest in a record-breaking series of trial flights at Army Signal Corps Headquarters outside Washington, DC.
·         Dreams of Flight (Prehistory – December 17, 1903)
Mankind has always dreamed of flight – and has always feared the consequences (examples from legends around the world).  From manned kites to balloons to gliders, Man’s quest for flight has been shadowed by death.  In the first years of the 20th Century, heavier-than-air powered flight still seemed to most like an impossible dream (“Darius Green and his Flying Machine”; Scientific American quote) – even after two brothers from Ohio had already flown at Kitty Hawk.)
·         “As the aeroplane dashed off the rising track …” (Fort Meyer, Virginia / Thursday, September 17, 1908)
The flight begins well; Selfridge “evidently was enjoying himself thoroughly”; for the first four laps of the Fort Meyer parade ground, “everything seemingly [worked] much better and smoother than any former flight”, Orville later wrote his brother Wilbur.
·         From Kitty Hawk to Fort Meyer (December 17, 1903 – September 17, 1908)
For almost five years after their first powered flights at Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers’ accomplishments were viewed with skepticism or dismissed outright by most journalists, scientists, and government officials.  While the brothers continued their experiments in semi-secrecy, better-known and better-funded rivals also sought to perfect their own flying machines.  Only in the summer and fall of 1908, with Orville putting his Flyer through its paces before crowds of thousands at Fort Meyer in an attempt to sell the machine to the Army, and Wilbur demonstrating his own Flyer to potential buyers in Europe, did the Wright brothers become the undisputed “Kings of the Air”.
·         “Oh! Oh!” (Fort Meyer, Virginia / September 17, 1908)
As the Flyer begin its fifth lap, Orville “start[s] on a larger circuit with less abrupt turns”.  Suddenly, a tapping noise, then two big thumps; one of the twin propellers breaks, sending the Flyer plunging to the ground just outside one of the gates of Arlington Cemetery (now known as the Selfridge Gate).  Orville suffers a broken femur, fractured ribs, and pelvic damage. Selfridge suffers a fatal head injury – he becomes the first victim of the new Age of Flight.  The first-ever official crash investigation later determines the exact sequence of events which caused the mishap.  The Army buys the Wright flyer.  Its first pilots wear leather football helmets; had Selfridge been wearing one, he probably would have survived.
·         40 Years (September 17, 1908 – April 19, 1944)
The Wright Flyer crash makes headlines worldwide;  until the eve of World War I, each new aviation death is reported in detail even as the numbers of aviators and airplanes grow.  The War prompts even more explosive growth in both the numbers and sophistication of aircraft.  Large numbers of military-trained aviators and military surplus aircraft lead to the introduction of post-war air mail service, and later the birth of the airlines.  As commercial aircraft become bigger, they also become safer, but increasing size leads to ever-larger death tolls when they do crash – and high-profile crashes lead to increased government regulation of the airways.  WWII causes both a delay in the introduction of a new generation of civilian airliners and a boom in military-related air travel.

·         Orville’s Last Flight (April 19, 1944, Wright Field, Montgomery County, OH)
Wilbur Wright died of typhoid fever in 1912, at age 45.  Orville succeeded his brother as president of Wright Aircraft, but sold the company in 1915.  He last flew as a pilot in 1918, devoting the remainder of his life to serving on various aviation-related committees, most prominently the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA - the direct predecessor of NASA).  On April 19, 1944, Howard Hughes and TWA president Jack Frye stopped at Wright Field in Ohio on their return from a record-breaking 7-hour coast-to-coast flight to give Orville a ride in their revolutionary new airliner, the Lockheed Constellation.  Orville, then 72, may have briefly flown the Constellation; he remarked that its wingspan exceeded the distance of his first powered flight at Kitty Hawk.  Later that night he suffered the first of two heart attacks.  He died shortly after the second one, on January 30, 1948.

In 1953, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Kitty Hawk, Eastern Airlines commissioned Arthur Godfrey, a long-time pilot and the most beloved television personality of the day (then the host of no fewer than three shows on CBS, and President Eisenhower’s secret choice to record reassuring announcements to be broadcast in the event of nuclear war) to narrate a made-for-TV feature film.  Featuring the folksy Godfrey and Eastern’s president, WWI flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, at the controls of various aircraft, the show explained the basics of powered flight and celebrated how far aviation had come in just half a century.  The real star of the show was Eastern’s brand-new Lockheed Super Constellation, the latest variant of the airliner in which Orville Wright had taken his last flight less than a decade earlier.
Chapter Two:  Saturday Morning in the City of Angels
·         First Flight (Elevator Operator, Abalone Diver, etc.) – Los Angeles, California / Saturday, June  30, 1956
·         The Nation and the World (1956)
·         Heading Out (Relatives with Children, Servicemen, etc.) – Los Angeles, California / June 30, 1956
·         Los Angeles (1956)
·         Heading Home (Kites, Conventioneers, etc.) – Los Angeles, California / June 30, 1956
·         Crowded Skies (June, 1956)
·         Frequent Fliers (Scientists, Business Execs, etc.) – Los Angeles, California / June 30, 1956
·         LAX (June 30, 1956)
Chapter Three:  The Star of the Seine
·         TWA – Howard Hughes’s Airline
·         Lockheed Super Constellation (L1049A) N6902C (“The Star of The Seine”)
·         TWA Flight 2
·         Flight Crew
·         Passengers
Chapter Four:  The Mainliner Vancouver
·         United Air Lines
·         Douglas DC-7 N6324C (“Mainliner Vancouver”)
·         UAL Flight 718
·         Flight Crew
·         Passengers
Chapter Five:  A Thousand Feet on Top
·         Delays
·         Takeoffs
·         Flight Paths
·         A Thousand Feet On Top
·         Painted Desert Line of Position
·         “Salt Lake, United 718 … ah … we’re going …”
Chapter Six:  I’m Afraid I Have Some Bad News
·         “Two of our airliners are missing.”
·         Search efforts.
·         “I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
·         Waiting for news.
Chapter Seven:  Smoke in the Canyon
·         Smoke in the Canyon.
·         Reports from Marble Canyon.
·         The Hudgen Brothers.
·         Others who claimed to have been first to the crash sites.
Chapter Eight:  I Hope I Never Have to See Anything Like That Again
[Green Fields of France quote - I hope you died well, and I hope you died clean, or young Willy McBride, was it slow and obscene?]
·         Initial reconnaissance.
·         The media circus.
·         TWA crash site.
·         United crash site / the two mountaineering teams.
·         Red Butte and Flagstaff
Chapter Nine:  The Board Determines That … - Crash investigation and conclusions.
Chapter Ten:  Memorials – Funerals, monuments, and legacies, both bright and dark.
[ripples quote]
Chapter Eleven:  To Make the Airways Safer – Improvements to air traffic control system and establishment of the FAA.
Chapter Twelve:  Res Ipsa Loquitur – Insurance claims, personal injury lawsuits, and legal (and not so legal) legacies of the Grand Canyon Air Disaster.
Chapter Thirteen:  The Strange Voyage of Arthur Billingsley – Cleanups of the Crash Sites, their current status, and future prospects.
Chapter Fourteen:  Pillars of Fire – Later civil aviation disasters.
[Green Fields of France Quote – … was all that in vain? For young Willy McBride, it all happened again … and again and again and again and again.]
Chapter Fifteen:  Fifty Years Later (2006)
·         The Years Go Slowly By – from Eisenhower to JFK to Indiana Jones to 9/11 and on; follow-up news coverage dwindles
·         And the world moved on – why this crash was so quickly forgotten by most / why no earlier book
·         Flagstaff Citizens Cemetery – but not forgotten by all; TWA alumni & the renovation of the TWA mass grave
·         Grand Canyon Village – Gravesite, Museum
·         “Kissing Takes Concentration” – Into the Canyon with Tom and Hazel
·         Embry Riddle – Exploring His Outdoor Classroom with Bill
·         Touring the Canyon with a reporter from the LA Times
·         Talking about the Crash with Bill and Mike (Grand Canyon Air Pilot)
·         50th Anniversary Observances
Chapter Sixteen:  Time Keeps on Slipping (2006 – 2011)
[discworld quote:  Know how to spell bananana … just don’t know how to stop spelling it]
·         Lexington, Kentucky / Sunday, August 27, 2006
·         Current issues in airline safety.
·         Flagstaff, Arizona  / Sunday, June 29, 2008
·         Other aviation safety issues – air medical, private aviation, etc..
·         Glendale, AZ / June 18, 2009 – Mission Accomplished … Umm ….
·         55 years after the 1956 Grand Canyon Air Disaster
Chapter Seventeen:  Legends
[Blade Runner Quote – I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe]
·         Before they fade from living memory into history, or are lost altogether
·         Questions we may never know the answers to
·         Enduring Legacies
·         Literary Legacies
·         Oddball legacies – misrememories, jokes, etc.
·         What may lie ahead
·         A parting image – campfire tales on the River; a last view of the passengers & crew of TWA2 & UAL718 (It’s still not yet 9AM on that July morning in 1956, and … )
[Faulkner quote:
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago.
William Faulkner , Intruder in the Dust ]

Well, it's a start anyway.

More tomorrow!

Have a great night.

© 2011 Danny R. Driskill / All rights reserved