Four years ago today, I lost 10 friends in a plane crash. I can’t believe that four years have passed, it somehow feels like I just saw them yesterday. My last memories with each of them remain vividly, timelessly alive. I am incredibly lucky to have known these 10 amazing people at their happiest as we laughed and jumped together. While the tragedy itself profoundly changed me and my life, it’s really the positive impact these people had on me that I recognize. I look forward to celebrating the lives of Our 10 with my skydiving family tonight. But I am still very sad and I feel grief all over again reading things that were written back then by myself and others.
The accident happened on 10/07/07, a couple weeks after I had returned from studying abroad for a month in West Africa. We were required to journal about our experience there and I wrote the following entry two days after the crash. Only a dozen people have read this until now. I guess I finally feel like it’s something I can share with the world.
10/09/07: I have just lost ten members of my skydiving family. I knew everyone on board the plane that went down over the Cascades on Sunday night. I am a complete wreck. The grief comes and goes in waves; I’m either hysterically crying or numb with devastation. I wrote in my journal about my return to skydiving after getting back from Africa. I was so happy to see my friends again at the dropzone. I still have Cecil’s shoes in my car because he let me borrow them after Landon made me lose a shoe on a jump. I have pictures with Hollie and Jeff on my phone after getting a bloody nose while jumping with them. Phil gave us extra altitude flying us up to 14,000 for Jeff and Landon’s 100th jumps. Then we pied the two of them as per tradition. These are some of my last memories of them. I am grateful to have shared the skies with them and can’t believe we won’t be flying together anymore.
But my memories and grief are irrelevant to my experience in Senegal and The Gambia. The juju I neglected to mention in my journal is relevant. I was supposed to be on that plane, or at least, I had asked to be on it. I was planning on going to Idaho with my friends for lots of jumping this past weekend. I spent the entire weekend jealous that I was stuck in rainy, gray Seattle while they were enjoying blue skies. I could have been on that plane.
Early in our last week in the Gambia, I went to Leif’s (our TA) room to reclaim the bucket my friend and I had purchased. I found Leif and Small Lamin (our local guide) talking and then Leif went to get the bucket. Then I asked Small Lamin what he and Leif were talking about and he told me Leif was getting jujus. I expressed interest and he explained some of the different kinds. I immediately wanted the one for protection against mass casualty accidents like plane/bus/train/car crashes. You see, one of my greatest fears is to be involved in any kind of crash. Small Lamin arranged things with Wandufa (the marabout, a spiritual leader) and I received my juju and ink water (a prayer is written on a board with special ink, washed away, and the water is collected) to drink and wash my hands/face. I was told to carry the juju everywhere with me and that it would protect me. That something would happen to prevent me from getting on the plane if it was going to crash. I told him about skydiving and he had no idea what I was talking about so I showed him a video on my phone. The look he gave me was priceless as I confirmed that the person thousands of feet above ground in the video was me. He kinda scares me for some reason. So it was interesting to have this Gambian marabout look at me like I was a lunatic and tell me that I was “special” and needed special extra protection. The next day I received much more ink water with which to shower my whole body and drink. He also gave me favorable news about my future.
I don’t consider myself superstitious. I don’t kiss my fingertips and touch my car ceiling when I make it through a yellow light. I don’t knock on wood regularly. I don’t have any special rituals before a competition. I don’t have lucky charms or numbers. But seeing how much Gambians believe in jujus, I thought it couldn’t hurt to invest a little belief in a juju for one of my greatest fears. I don’t have a religion, but I do consider myself somewhat spiritual because I do partially believe in every belief. This was one of them, as well as a bit of a souvenir. I have been carrying it with me at all times, moving it to and from my backpack, purses, pocket…
I had asked Michelle to save me a spot on the plane to Idaho while the trip was in its planning stages. I thought my spot was secured until 1.5 weeks ago when I asked Landon if Idaho was still happening. He found out that I wasn’t on the plane and had me call Michelle right away. Apparently the plane was full and I was the first person on the waitlist. Then last week Michelle contacted me saying Casey might not be able to go so that I could take his spot. I even considered flying Horizon Air to Idaho if things didn’t work out, but I decided to stay home since it was my mom’s birthday on Saturday anyway. And I never followed up with Michelle and I guess Casey was able to move his schedule around.
I painfully remember telling Ralph and Jeff in the plane up to altitude how I don’t feel comfortable taking that plane all the way to Idaho and back. They joked that we’d be fine and that we’ll just wear our rigs and jump out if something was wrong with the plane. I guess on the way home from an exhausting weekend, they weren’t prepared for emergency procedures? Or it happened too suddenly? I can’t even imagine, nor do I really want to.
I can’t believe all the skydivers+pilot I have mentioned here are gone. I miss them. I wish I could stop crying and start celebrating their lives, but I can’t yet. I can’t tell if I’m laughing or crying as I go through funny memories. Everything is just a blur of emotions.
Four years later I still have the juju. I just keep it in my wallet and forget about it. I was almost in a really bad car accident a couple years ago, but ended up flying off the road into the ONLY empty grass field in the entire area without a scratch or dent on me or my car. Was there a connection? My experience in the Gambia with the juju and the events that followed have definitely made me open up to the possibility of something greater than what I can sense.
Hopefully this post wasn’t depressing, but more inspiring or thought-provoking. Some things I’ve learned: Always tell your friends and family that you love them. Appreciate every single person that you encounter in life. Remember that life is precious and to live life to the fullest in the pursuit of happiness. Regardless of what happens after death, you live on forever in the memories of others. Most importantly, celebrate the lives of all of those before you, around you, and after you.