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Chapter 39


The name Geronimo has always fascinated me. Tales of the misery this old medicine man dealt the U.S. Army have been favorite reading for years. I never jumped from an airplane with a chute but "Geronimo" is the word that army paratroopers always yell as they leave the safety of a perfectly good airplane. I have hauled Skydivers to altitude on a couple of occasions. I never heard that word from civilians I carried and really cannot confirm the army version.

This is not about Skydivers or paratroopers but about a very troubled lady and an event that has stuck in my mind for years. She still has relatives living and since I have been surprised before, the names are not mentioned.

I received a call from a friend the evening of December 18, 1970. He asked if I could fly his wife to Galveston, that she was to be admitted to the hospital and was too sick to drive. I told him I had to check on the availability of a particular aircraft I rented and would get back to him. The airport manager assured me the airplane was available and I asked him to have it serviced an on the line for an eight o'clock takeoff.

I called my friend and asked him to be at the house a little before seven. Next morning, he and his wife arrived on time, I pored coffee and told them I had to file my flight plan and check the weather between Weatherford and Galveston. Having flown a lot in the Galveston area, I knew to expect the unexpected. While I was on the phone, my wife came in the bedroom to tell me our lady passenger didn't look good. I reminded her that the reason for the trip was because she didn't feel good. I also asked her to go along. If we left at eight, we would be back in town no later than four or five that afternoon. At first she declined, it was the week before Christmas and she had not emptied my checking account. I finally convinced her and we departed for the airport, a five minute drive.

I knew it was our passenger's first airplane ride and made a big show of preflighting the Cessna 182. Everyone buckled up, I started the engine and when all was in the green taxied to the end of the active runway. I overheard my wife tell the lady not to light a cigarette, that once we were airborne, they would both have a smoke and a cup of coffee from the thermos she had brought along.

Takeoff was normal, I called Mineral Wells Radio and activated my flight plan, eight o'clock on the button. Best winds were at 7500 feet and I started a lazy climb to that altitude. I was tracking the Waco VOR, just about to pass over it when I heard my wife ask our passenger if she would like some coffee but didn't hear her reply. The next thing I heard was the wind rushing around in the cockpit, maps and dust flying everywhere.

This particular airplane had one bad habit. The door on my side would come unlatched. Nothing to worry about, the propeller blast didn't allow it to open more than a half inch, just enough to sound bad. When it happened this time, and not wanting to alarm the lady, I turned to close it. About this time, I heard a loud scream from my wife. As I turned to close the door, I came face to face with the lady's derriere. She had reached up, opened the window and was half way out of the airplane. Those familiar with Cessna aircraft know that the window open outward from the bottom about six or eight inches. When the lady opened it, the wind broke the hinge and you could have driven a Mack truck through that opening.

My wife's screams were louder than the engine noise by now and she was holding the woman's feet for dear life. I reached out to grab her slacks to find they had an elastic waistband so that was out. Her husband reached around but he wasn't any help, nothing to hold on to except her feet. I grabbed for her hair but she was too far away and gaining. I will never know what prompted my action but I pulled power all the way off, pulled the nose up to near vertical and just before the stall, kicked right rudder and we started to spin. The motion brought the lady's head within range and I grabbed a hand full of long thick hair. I managed to pull her back close enough for her husband to get the same grip. Now I had to stop the rotation and get the airplane squared away. We had started at 7500 feet and a glance at the altimeter told me we were now at 3500. We were also past Waco and it was decision time. I voted to return to Weatherford but the husband was adamant that we continue. Looking back, I should have landed at Waco.

Somewhere around Hempstead, Texas I called a Flight Service Station for the latest weather at Galveston. It was not good. The low ceiling that should have lifted before our planned arrival had other ideas, not uncommon in the Gulf area. It meant that I would have to make a Special VFR approach which meant some time on instruments. I was in no shape to fly instruments and told my friend. Instead I contacted David Wayne Hooks near Highway 45 north of Houston to arrange for a rental car.

We landed at Hooks, transferred to a car and began the long trip to Galveston through Houston traffic. After the lady was admitted, we stopped for lunch and while we ate my friend disclosed some things about his wife that might have made me think twice about taking on the job of flying her to Galveston.

We already knew she was admitted to a mental ward at the hospital. We also found out this was the third time she had tried to commit suicide! She finally succeeded about two years later. She shot herself with a small caliber rifle the fourth attempt and while she was in the hospital told the nurses she would make it next time. The next time she did make it. She tied a cinder block to her feet, and jumped in a small lake on the ranch. It was pretty suspicious to me. Due to the husbands position at the time, no autopsy was performed. The Justice of the Peace, acting as coroner ruled the death suicide by drowning.

The husband met a violent death a few years later. I was very naive about these people at the time. The husband held a high position in the government but I suppose there is a skeleton in every closet.

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