My good friend Mark, whom I met shortly after high school, loved to fly as much as me. During my college years in the early ’80s we would take every opportunity to get airborne and go have fun. I was finally able to complete my private pilot license about the time I graduated from Boise State (BSU, where the BS comes before U), and that opened up even more chances for the Two Bad Marks to leap into the blue. What a great, great time!
One day Mark called me up and said, “Let’s fly up to McCall for lunch!” I couldn’t think of a good reason not to (never could), so we departed Nampa in his club’s sweet old straight-tail 182 affectionately known as “Five Seven Dawg.” I brought my girlfriend along too.
After landing at McCall (about 80nm north of the Boise area), we walked across the street to a nice little Mexican place (still there, I think) for a leisurely lunch. As we walked back to the Dawg, Mark noticed several large, smooth “river biscuit” rocks at the edge of the tiedown area. He said, “Hey, let’s grab one of those and we’ll drop it over Lake Cascade on the way home!”
I don’t precisely recall what I said, but it must’ve been something like, “What a GREAT idea!” because I hoisted that forty-some-pound monster aboard, and off we went.
Mark must have held the airspeed pretty close to Vx in the entire climb, because by the time we were over the middle of the lake we were about 7000 feet over the water. I was in the back seat with my pet rock, and my girlfriend was in the copilot seat, looking rather apprehensive right about then. We slowed and performed a couple of S-turns as we scanned the surface a mile and a half below us for any vessels. None seen. The mission was a GO!
Mark yanked harder on Dawg’s leash and lowered flaps to full. He gave me a thumbs-up, so I opened the right door (girlfriend was thoroughly freaked by now) and wrestled that rock over the side, narrowly missing the gear leg. I yelled “Bombs away!” and secured the door as Mark retracted the flaps and started a left-hand orbit so we could watch the impact.
So we watched. And watched. I remember wondering what the terminal velocity of a big homesick rock actually was, and I’m still wondering that almost forty years later. Finally, WAAAY down there, an itty-bitty blossom of white on that huge green surface appeared for a couple of seconds. Then everything went back to the way it was before we entered the target area. Yay.
That memorable moment being over, it was a nice, boring flight home to Nampa. Later that evening, I was talking with my mom on the phone, regaling her with the saga of my hyper-accurate bombing mission (I did shack the assigned target, if you recall, a 47-square mile lake). She thought that was about the funniest thing she’d ever heard. Before we hung up, she invited me to bring my girlfriend out to their house for dinner the following evening.
That next evening as we were about to sit down to eat, Mom casually said, “Did you all hear what happened up on Lake Cascade yesterday?” I immediately smelled a rat, but my uber-gullible girlfriend perked up her ears like a llama. Mom went on, “Yeah, some poor schlub was out fishing on the lake, and something came out of the sky and killed him, and sunk his boat!”
So, my girlfriend freaked again, but this time it was a good one. Both hands came up to the sides of her face, accompanied by a shriek-gasp (I’m still trying to figure out how that is even possible). “OHMIGAWD!!! WE DID THAT!!!
Mom, Dad, and I were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe.
In the years since, I greatly raised my standards and married a girl much smarter than me and not at all gullible. I served for 21 years as an Air Force pilot, and another 20 as an airline pilot, striving every day to build discipline and knowledge, and to leave those crazy days behind.
I saw Mark go on to operate several small businesses, become a leader in his community, raise his family, and give over 20 years service as a certified reserve police officer in our home town. He also continued building experience and discipline as a pilot, and was well-respected in local aviation circles.
It was 18 years ago tonight as I write this that my phone rang on a stopover while I was parked at the gate at San Jose International. It was my sheriff back home, telling me that my friend Mark and his police chief (who was also a friend of mine) had been killed in a crash while attempting to land Mark’s beautiful old Bonanza at Atlanta, Idaho. The two of them were scouting for a location to host their church youth camp.
I am so thankful to have been blessed with living through two flying careers, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But sometimes I miss the carefree nature of flying like it used to be when I was young. And stupid.
And I miss my buddy Mark.
Every single day.