By Web Master, 5-11-12
One night, halfway across the Atlantic, the pilot notified us that even though two of the four engines had quit working there was no danger of fire and we had more than enough fuel to get to England but not much farther.
I was lucky enough to take a $10 dollar ride with Herman Geiger when he was experimenting with glacial flying on the Gornergrat Glacier in Zermatt. While I flew with Herman I managed to expose four minutes of never-before-seen footage because no one had ever flown off a glacier before with a cameraman sitting beside him.
I can honestly say I have only been really frightened twice while in flight and one of the times the helicopter had already landed. The pilot was slowing down the RPMs on the blades and we were given the go ahead to climb out when the cornice that we had landed on settled about six feet. As it did it leaned to the left and I had sudden visions of us rolling down it while still in the helicopter.
One day en route to Hartford, Conn., the small commuter plane did a 180-degree turn and headed back to JFK airport. When the plane settled on its new course, the stewardess came through the cabin and talked with each passenger quietly with the following information. "Take any sharp objects out of your shirt pockets. When we tell you to, lean forward and grab your elbows with your forearms under your legs. We will be landing on a foamed runway so there is no need to worry about fire when we land.” As it turned out a landing gear light had malfunctioned and there was no real danger. It was kind of exciting though as the plane slowed down in the 60 or 70 MPH range to see a string of fire engines racing alongside the plane. They put in a new light bulb and we were on our way an hour and a half late to Hartford with half of the passengers taking a bus instead.
On the way to Japan in a Pan Am plane we ran into violent turbulence and were slammed down 10,000 vertical feet. Half of the passengers did not have their seat belts on and were instantly pinned against the ceiling and we dropped long enough and far enough for me to tell my wife, "I hope someone raises our kids right.” We did not fly together on the same airplane ever again. I would catch an earlier one and rent the car and be ready when she got there.
When Laurie and I lived in Vail I spent a lot of days skiing with Frank Wells. He was the co-president of The Walt Disney Company at the time. Laurie and I had spent four days packing up for our spring migration to the Northwest when Frank called and invited me to come skiing with him at Elko, Nev., the coming weekend. I told him that I already have a commitment and couldn’t make it. We joked around a bit and then he called me again on Wednesday and said, "C’mon Miller. Change your plans. This weekend is on me – food, housing and helicopter rides.” I apologized and said I just couldn’t do it this time.
While driving the two days from Vail to Orcas Island I kept thinking about what I was missing by not skiing in Elko with Frank Wells, Clint Eastwood and a half-dozen or so of his good friends.
On Tuesday afternoon the phone rang on Orcas Island and it was Frank Wells’ son. He said, "My mother would like you to speak at my father’s funeral.” The helicopter engine had flamed out and the pilot with Frank sitting directly behind him had hit a big pine tree at over a hundred miles an hour. The pilot and Frank died instantly and the guide and Mike Hoover somehow survived because they were sitting on the other side of the helicopter.
I really miss Frank and know that I would still be skiing with him today if his helicopter had not hit that tree in Elko without me on board.
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