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My Number Wasn’t Up

By Tracy Buttles, EAA 839196

April 7, 2016 - Our local airport was having a weekend fly-in pancake breakfast linked with a huge car show a few miles away. With beautiful weather we had a good turnout of airplanes and lots of hungry people to feed for the breakfast. After helping out for a few hours, helping the club serve breakfast. I pulled my airplane out and was going to go fly, enjoy the weather, and go buzz over the car show to see how big it had grown this year. On a whim I thought I would call a longtime friend and see if he wanted a ride. I knew he had not been in an airplane in a long time and he was all for it.

Waiting for my friend to show up I watched the last airplane leave the fly-in, I knew the pilot, he was from another local airport. About a half hour later my friend showed up, I got him strapped in and got my Cub clone homebuilt fired up. In a short time we were approaching the car show. I was about a thousand feet and starting to do a little circle around the outside edge of the show. I had my eyes out the side window looking at the crowd and seeing all the activity on the ground, the amount of cars and how large the swap meet area had grown. To this day I cannot believe the timing, I lifted my head from looking out the side window to just glancing forward and as I did that I could not believe what I saw. Directly in front of me not more than a few hundred feet, if that, was a yellow Tri Pacer closing so fast that the only possible split second option I had was to pull back on the stick as hard as I could. As I was doing that, I didn’t know it at the time but the structure of the seat was not up to the g-load and collapsed. While I was falling back not realizing it was the seat, I thought that I had broken a lift strut and lost a wing. I thought I was done for. In that split second, I didn’t have the “life flashing before my eyes” moment that I had heard about so many times, my thoughts were about my family. That is what flashed in my mind. I was instantly going to be gone. I was going to cause a lot of pain, a daughter with no dad, a wife with no husband, a mother a father that had fostered the love of aviation in me, losing me in an airplane. I actually felt embarrassed that I would have caused an airplane crash resulting in the death of myself, my friend, people on the ground at the car show and I didn’t know it at the time but a friend in the other aircraft. I would be a blemish on aviation, with a really messy headline story in the news that the press love to highlight and I loathe so much.

With me basically lying on top of my buddy in the back seat, and my hand still on the stick I did feel the airplane still under me. Realizing that the seat had broken and I was still alive, I grabbed for the upper cross tube, trying to lift myself up, while making sure the airplane wasn’t damaged any more than just the seat. My buddy was asking what in the heck just happened. He was looking out the side window also and had not seen a thing. He was able to support the broken seat while I was basically trying to learn how to fly while squatting. So happy to be alive I was in a hurry to get it back on the ground. With everything still flyable I decided not to just find a field and land but make the short trip back to the airport. A few minutes later and back on the ground at the airport and we were both relieved to have made it. The yellow Tri Pacer came in and landed. I had realized on the flight back that it had been my friend that I had almost hit. He was flying by himself and all three of us met, not knowing what to say, in disbelief at what had happened. We all just came so close. The first thing he told me was that he was taking pictures and the only thing he saw was my tire go past his windshield.

Just the unbelievable chance that the two of us where flying in exactly the opposite direction, at the same altitude, in the same spot, and most likely the only two airplanes flying in a large radius at the time. Unfortunately, that was the last time my buddy has flown. I would like to get him up at some point, that’s up to him. As for myself I was up flying the next day, in someone else’s airplane (I had to fix my seat). I had to get back in the saddle so to speak. It was not an issue of being afraid to fly after that, I totally understood the pure coincidence of the close encounter. I had been warned all through my flight training to be ever conscious of traffic but until you are in a situation that close you really don’t put that foremost in your mind. The main thing I have taken away from this experience is to make sure my focus is out that windshield, constantly looking for traffic, cherishing my family, and realizing that my number was not up that day!    

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