Monument Valley Debrief

At the Banquet we learned that the pilot down was Martin Maxwell
I met Martin at the airstrip about 45 minutes before his fatal flight.
While we were hanging at the airstrip waiting for the weather to change I noticed an unfamiliar face and introduced myself to Martin. We chatted a bit about ballooning And he told me a story about where he had waited at a balloon festival with “hundreds” of pilots for the weather to cooperate.
Martin and I had corresponded extensively prior to the Fly-in, mostly concerning camping options and how much cheaper it was to stay on the reservation. He also contacted me to suggest ways to improve the event. I was peeved that he didn’t want to spend the 25 bucks to stay at Gouldings with the rest of us, but it was an informal Fly-in, if he wanted to stay at the Dry camp in the reservation, that was his business. After his death I re-read our correspondence and came to realize that he wasn’t so much trying to tell me what to do…but rather he was just very excited about flying the Monuments and I was the guy putting it on.
When Bill first informed me that we had a pilot down my first thought was: Who?… there are no vehicles in the lot. Who is missing? and mostly…
How are we gonna find this guy in the middle of nowhere, in the dark.
I forgot about the missing car keys and rushed up to the Lodge with Mark get the scoop. The first person I spoke with was Barbara, the restaurant manager, who informed us who the pilot was, she said, that he had been located and EMT’s were en route. That was good news, I figured that he had broken his leg or something minor and at the worst it was going to be a whooping big fee for the evacuation.
The Banquet was anything but a celebration. Everyone was very subdued and in no mood for a rowdy good time. My “Master of Ceremonies” speech was short, stilted and totally unacceptable. I wanted to thank John Fetz for all of his help and recognise the famous pilots among us and have everybody stand and introduce themselves. None of that happened. I think I said something inane about this being the “Holy Grail” and looking forward to seeing everybody again next year.
After dinner I went with Mark back to the airstrip to retrieve my truck and 30 minutes later when I got to the campground, Ky rushed over and said, ” The Guy…He Dead. I couldn’t believe it, then he repeated “He Dead… Man” and I thought I was going to be sick. How could this happen? Everything was going so well. It was hard to accept, nobody saw an accident. There were no sirens or flashing lights, everybody I had been partying with was still here. From all appearances everything was just as it should be. How could somebody be dead?
Chris Page and Andy MCavin were sitting at a picnic table with several pilots talking about the conditions and what might have happened to bring Martin down. I sat and listened for awhile but it was hard to sit still. I wandered from group to group not saying much, just making an appearance and gauging their emotions.
The Colorado Springs guys were very quiet. At Alex’s trailer I found Ky with Alex reviewing the footage of Alex tangling with the rotor. Lon only got part of it, one bounce up and then seeing him land on the downstroke, just enough to show the severity of the turbulence. I know Alex was thinking…”That could have just as easily been me”. Mathew and Kevin were just sitting quietly and when I asked if they were planning to fly in the morning, Kevin who is by far the most experienced aviator said, “No, when somebody dies that’s it, I won’t be flying tomorrow.
Martin had been Mo’s student, he was feeling a mixture of guilt, confusion, anger…but most of all sadness because he had come to know Martin and his family well during the last year. He had been down to the crash site and met with the Navajo Tribal Police, they were going to go to the crash site the next day to clean up and try to ascertain what had happened. I appreciate that he made a point of telling me that I was not to blame ….Martin was the “Pilot in Command”.
Later after I had gone to bed, Craig came in after spending time with Martin’s wife and son. He had a memory stick of photographs that one of the spectators had taken. There was some discussion of what to do with the pictures. Craig though we should erase the stick before Martin’s son could ask for them. He was was worried that the photos would do more damage than good and we agreed. But…if there were pictures and possibly video of the incident, it would be valuable data that might prevent someone else from making the same mistake. Eventually curiosity won out and I booted up the laptop and we opened the files. The pictures were a bunch of nice shots of Martin Flying but there were no indications of turbulence or shots of the accident. There were some other files with pictures of the accident site but none of us needed or wanted to see Martin’s broken body. The police had copies and that was enough.

Author: JoeO

Powered Paraglider pilot since 2005

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