When your time is up

If it were not for the fact that my sister lives in Hilton Head, South Carolina, I might not have clicked on the link to this story:

Woodstock jogger killed in Hilton Head beach emergency landing

Robert Gary Jones was a pharmaceutical salesman on a business trip, looking forward to getting home to celebrate his daughter’s third birthday. He was enjoying a moment to himself on this resort island, jogging on the beach and listening to his iPod.

Officials say the Woodstock, Ga., man neither saw nor heard what struck him from behind Monday evening: A single-engine plane making an emergency landing.

But now that I have, now that I have read about this most freakish of freak accidents, I find myself utterly preoccupied by a whirlwind of thoughts that it stirred up.

First off, I’ve been on a beach on a business trip. There but for the grace…, and all that. Our jobs eat up enough of our lives, keeping us away from our families way too long, and sometimes they keep us away permanently.

For some reason, this story reminds me of a time, it must be 20 or so years ago, I was on a beach in Santa Monica, California with a friend of mine, we were out in the ocean swimming, and suddenly we heard and even felt a powerful whoosh directly over our heads, the whoosh of three large pelicans doing a fly-by within inches of our scalps, and we watched them zoom away in a perfect V formation, like Blue Angels, thinking they could have really hurt us badly if they wanted to.

Naturally, because I’m an iPod owner, an iPod owner who also happens to be a jogger, the fact that this particular jogger was using an iPod leapt out at me.

Would he have been able to hear the plane in time to dive out of its path if it had not been for the iPod?

It’s not clear:

The Lancair IV-P aircraft, which can be built from a kit, had lost its propeller and was “basically gliding” as it hit and instantly killed Jones, said Ed Allen, the coroner for Beaufort County on the South Carolina coast.

“There’s no noise,” said aviation expert Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general for the National Transportation Safety Board. “So the jogger, with his ear buds in, and the plane without an engine, you’re basically a stealth aircraft. Who would expect to look up?”

And what about the fact that this jogger’s last name was “Jones” (emphasis added)?

Well, you walk into the room
Like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket
And your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law
Against you comin’ around
You should be made
To wear earphones

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?

–Bob Dylan, from Ballad of a Thin Man

Meanwhile, can you imagine being the pilot of the plane? You narrowly escape your own death, but you accidentally kill someone in the process?!

“I’ve got a lot of issues going on right now,” Smith (the pilot) said. “I’ve got a plane that’s all torn up. And I’ve got a young man that I killed.”

I think we can all forgive him his having mentioned his torn up plane first.


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