We had just spent an incredible 3 months on a trip of a lifetime, in pursuit of spreading the word about organ donor awareness, we had flown into places in our little plane that not many people risked going near to in a one engine Cessna. Not only that, but we had seen such breathtaking scenery, met incredible, wonderful people, and had the most amazing flying experiences that we could never replicate. The pure thrill and high of the adventure, although not over had stalled, and here we were playing the waiting game. As soon as my doctors give me the green light, off we are again flying on our adventure!!!
Once arriving in Naples we decamped and headed off to check out “old Blue Jay”. This could be found in the hanger getting a full service and annual by the lovely Frank Oliver, a worldly man who had a great sense of humour and huge knowledge about airplanes. Our plane was buffed, oiled, and smoothed. All the dust, dents and scratches of our trip were now all polished away. On our test flight the engine purred, and the plane performed wonderfully. It flew smooth” like a baby’s bottom” as we swooped over the everglades, I noticed familiar land marks of our old neighbourhood such as the famous pier at Naples beach, and the Coastland shopping Mall. It was good to be back, and we both felt on form again.
As we were preparing for our flight back north to Nantucket, I heard that friends were preparing a “welcome home” hangar party with newspapers reporters awaiting our return. I was extremely touched that so many people had been following our journey, and also excited to be going home to see old friends, eager to be celebrating with them on completing our mission.
Chris and I began to plan our route home, he was excited in revisiting the Outer Banks and we talked about maybe spending some time in Charleston, and popping into Savannah where we knew there were some Signature personnel we wanted to meet. We packed “old blue Jay” to the gills again before heading off to the beach for a swim. The next few days we caught up with our Naples friends; having nice lunches, dinners, and attending a blessing at a new Art gallery of our dear friends Eileen and Paul Arsenault. We were winding down our Naples operation when we got a call from both the UK and Nantucket, both bad news. My sister’s cancer had spread to her brain, and she was having seizures and poor Chris’s mum had finally passed away. Both bits of news were totally shocking to us and although Chris’s mum had been sick for a while, we were still not ready to hear this terrible news. Within minutes we were hastily packing our stuff, cancelling any prearranged events, and calling off anything we had hope to attend. We prepared for a rapid return to Nantucket, Cape Cod without and delay.
Our morning of departing was slow, due to many time consuming petty chores in which neither of us had the patience or the focus to deal with. When we arrived at our plane we were both hot and sweaty and rather jangled. We left without much of a goodbye to anyone; in my mind I had a different picture of how we would be leaving Naples. Our departure, it would be more personal; taking time to drop in and chat and thank those who have supported our cause. Also acknowledging those who have just been kind, giving and helpful to us. Instead we raced around shaking hands and thanked everyone we could before fly the coop.
We headed off towards Orlando and Jacksonville, looking for the best groundspeed so we could get home ASAP. The weather was not very impressive, not great for taking pictures and not especially ideal or good for VFR flying although perfectly legal. Out of our window was grey scattered cloud cover, and in the distance a handful of thunderstorms brewing up around us, typical good old Florida weather! The best groundspeed we could find was 115 knots way up high at 7500 feet, again not an idyllic for us to look out of the window and drink up the views, but good in taking us on our way home, and quicker than lower altitude levels. We knew that we were not following our normal pattern of swooping down low to catch a good picture or circling interesting landscapes or pretty shapes in the sea, our main focus was getting home!
We both kept our attention on flying the plane, but felt deflated by the way our adventure was ending. We unfortunately did not get to speak to our Signature friends in Savannah as planned but decided the best way to get to Nantucket quickly and effectively was to continue without stopping until we really needed fuel which was in Charleston, South Carolina.
We plodded on towards the Nantucket, listening to the weather reports along the way on Flight watch. The North east weather was not good, we were hearing heavy rain, scattered thunderstorms and fog in some places, it seemed to me as though the “weather gods” were not on our side today and we were going into some challenging flying conditions. Basically the weather conditions the nearer we got to home were becoming worst. New York has always been a safe haven, a place we scoot into when the weather conditions e especially in ACK (Nantucket) are bad. But even tonight JFK was looking pretty dismal regarding VFR; the raining was intermittently pounding the plane, and we were seeing fog building up around the route we usually take when spending the night in New York. The weather conditions seemed eerie, ghostly and spooky to me. The lower levels below us appeared like one of those horror movies when the fog rolls in and out and you have the “now you see me, now you don’t” images. I had a Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights Bodmin moors impression in my mind as I watched the low cloud mixing with the damp air forming spreading fog. We were both quiet for a while, taking in the situation and mulling over our options. Chris and I eventually began to talking, and the subject we rested on was the JFK Jr. air plane accident. It would have happened not far from where we were flying, in almost exactly the same weather conditions in which he had flown with his wife and sister-in-law before he crashed in his plane. As I looked out of the window seeing the darkness starting to fall, as I said before, it was eerie. After discussing our options, did we forge on to our next point of call which was Bradley near Hartford as it was not looking too bad? Or thinking about the unsettled weather, visibility and our physical state we both decided that although we could probably make Bradley, we were conscious that we had started to have the “got to get home devil in our heads, and it was a good idea and sensible to land ASAP.
Atlantic City we heard from weather reports, was in the clear so we heading into there. It is not a place we have stopped before but it would do us for a night. After we landed and taxied in, much to Chris’s excitement, there on the ramp was an F-18 Super Hornet one used at air shows. We both wondered what it doing here and after we disembarked and walked to the FBO we found out from the ramp guys, that just like us the pilots had landed and decided to night stop due to bad weather.
I did not realize how physically, mentally and emotionally tired we both were until we got to our hotel room. It was a brand new hotel with a kitchenette area with a microwave, real size fridge and a cupboard full of chinaware and cooking utensils. The bed was king size with many pillows and cushions, one of those deep, snug comfy beds that you do not want to be disturbed from, and once you are in it, you need to stay in it without moving a limb from the fluffy sanctuary for a few restful days!!!.
The next day refreshed from our lovely deep sleep, Chris checked the weather and although fog was still around the Atlantic City area, it was due to clear around noon. So a leisurely breakfast was on my agenda today rather than a gulped down off we go one, that usually occurs when bad weather is around us, normally nipping at our tail. After we had breakfast we headed to the airport, much to our delight the F-18 guys were also at the FBO checking the weather so we were able to tell them about our mission, get pictures and plan our route home.
We were still in IFR weather conditions so we knew it was going to be an “entertaining day of flying”. After we took off out of Atlantic City we were given vectors (headings) from the air traffic controller in the wrong direction to where we were heading. Chris and I have experienced this before in bad weather where the New York controllers under pressure to make way for the big jets, the airline traffic and move us out into the “never never land” before turning us around in the right bearing. This meant we were heading north to New York and then east to Nantucket at 7000 feet .At this altitude of course, the view on the ground is obscured by the clouds but we were also aware that we were being surrounded by bad weather conditions again. We observed the building up of and developing towering cumulus all around us. I was not very happy about this and was getting a little nervous as the thunderstorms were getting closer. Chris with the experience of a jumbo jet captain, voiced his concerns about our vectoring direction and asked for direct to JFK and was told "it ain't gonna happen" by the ATC. We were now being sent the wrong way, I was now getting anxious and Chris was now getting irritated as we were told to turn west to a radio beacon about 50 miles the wrong way. This also was directing us into thunderstorms and turbulence which was unrelenting and getting worst. The controller I am guessing was obviously overawed with the workload of the planes he was handling or was just having a bad day, but nevertheless he did not seem to have a clue and was missing calls from planes in the area and not responding promptly. After a request from Chris to be given a vector to our planned route, much to my horror he asked "where are you going?" Chris in a curt voice of authority explained our destination and we were immediately turned back to a north heading and after a few minutes, were given direct JFK. The view out of the window today was not worth taking an pictures, as it was grey, cloudy and miserable, we had hoped to snap a few pictures flying over the Hudson river which we always do on this route as vista on a good weather day is stunning as we fly over Manhattan but this was not going to happen on this flight.
After leaving JFK, we flew over Connecticut not seeing a single thing due to the nasty weather conditions, and then headed off over the water towards Block Island. This was once a fairly long water crossing for us but we both joked that now we have done the Falklands this was a walk in the park!! The groundspeed was not too bad today and we had been getting around 120-130 along our route which is not bad for our “little blue Jay”.
We found out that Nantucket was “fogged in” which is usual for this time of year but it seemed to have an negative impact on my spirits as I was hoping we could at least see our home tuft from the air as we had waited so long to return, because be it night or day seeing the old “grey Lady” from the air is always a thrill for me.
We were being vectored for an ILS approach to runway 24, but then we were given a NDB holding pattern. I have not been trained to fly IFR or do a NDB approach but Chris with all his hours of experience is, and finds these approaches great fun. It basically looks from the uninitiated that you are heading into a dark hole between the clouds and it feels like it your heading directly into an uncontrolled slow dive. In reality, flying by instruments is said to be more controlled than VFR, and once a pilot masters the skillful demand of certificate it makes one a more competent pilot, this I hope to one day achieve. I watch in awe as Chris flies the approach and gets us somehow heading back to the ILS. I have seen him fly many times into foggy old Nantucket but this time I watch with a little lump in my throat as we dive into the grey fog and pop out to see the runway at about 400-300 feet. We are finally back!!!!!!
As we taxi to our to our hangar we are both pretty quiet, I can’t believe we have finally achieved I a feat that I really at the start did not think could happen. I would have never of thought that Chris as sick as he was could have walked without assistance before this trip. But here we were after a trip of a lifetime, 3 months later completing our mission.
No one knows what is around the corner, or can see what life will bring you good or bad. Chris was unlucky to have experienced a life changing health issue that put him in a coma for 2 months, in need of a new liver. We had no warning of his collapse, it was a total shock, but we were lucky, or blessed that someone believed in becoming an organ donor which gave Chris a second chance in life. While I watched my husband lay in a coma on death’s door awaiting a liver transplant, I thought why wouldn’t people become donors, they don’t need them once they are gone? When I asked friends and family members they said they just had not thought about it, or had not got around to ticking the box on their driving license.
Please think about becoming a donor, please talk to your loved ones about it, and please make your wishes to be a donor clear to those family members and partners in your life. There is a worldwide shortage of organ donors and in becoming a donor you WILL save 8 lives. You donation will be given to people just like you, me or Chris. Surely recycling your life is better than throwing it away.
Thank you for reading my blog, looking at our pictures and listening to our message.