6 March 2008
CHASING DOWN THE MUSE:
By Catharine Cooper
The lights in Avalon twinkle across the dusky post-sunset seas, a kind of mirror for the stars that already light up the sky.
Overhead, jets launched from John Wayne Airport add their own blinking signals of travelers headed to distant destinations.
Thoughts drift to the plane crash in Riverside last week.
I had seen a piece on the news, about the valiant pilot who had managed to avoid crashing into homes when his flight had gone terribly wrong. Just after take-off from Corona, something had caused his plane to fall from the sky.
Witnesses on the ground said they heard the engine sputter, and they knew the flight wasn’t going to make it.
With terror and astonishment, they watched as the plane clipped a palm tree, crashed into a parked car — then exploded into flames in the midst of their residential neighborhood. All three men inside the craft perished. Miraculously, no one on the ground was injured.
As a former pilot, I felt an anguish that accompanies every note of crash. What were their last thoughts? Was there anything else that they could have done? Why did this have to happen?
The pilot, Brent Allen, from Rancho Santa Margarita, was identified the next morning. He was 35 years old and I thought, “Gee, so young.” The other two passengers had not yet been identified.
Two days later, my son, Cooper Lee, phoned. “Mom,” he said in a cracked and somber voice. “Scotty died.”
“What happened?” I asked, not putting the pieces together. Scotty and Brent had grown up together as buds in Mission Viejo.
“He was in the plane that went down in Riverside,” he said, choking back tears.
Suddenly, the “just another news article” was up close and personal.
Scotty McCullough had been both a friend of my son and husband, Steve, and an employee. He was big hearted, liked to laugh and didn’t take life too seriously.
He liked to ride motorcycles, loved to build and fly remote controlled airplanes, and dreamed of getting his pilot’s license. After his raucous party-filled 20s, Scotty had found a great job, met the love of his life, Brandi, and settled into a joyful existence as a husband and step-dad. He was 34 years old.
Cooper said he’d never seen Scotty so happy.
Scotty was not a morning person, which meant, if you expected him early at work, your expectations would continually be dashed. Cooper discovered this early, and made Scotty the night-guy, building and maintaining the NOC room for their telecommunications business.
A backward schedule that in the networking business is common. Work while the rest of the world sleeps.
I’d see Scotty in the early mornings, haggard and slugging down another cup of coffee while he waited for day crew, which consisted of James Carter, to arrive. James and he had been high school buddies, and ended up with similar skills sets in the same industry. They were such good friends that even though Scotty was beat and ready for sleep, once James showed up, they’d chatter away, sharing stories, for an hour or more before Scotty would finally head home.
When Scotty worked for Steve, it was a different story. Steve is a morning kind of guy and was always frustrated by Scotty’s lack of punctuality.
Scotty would roll in, pull off his motorcycle helmet and ask me whether we had any coffee. He’d have a big smile, even when Steve was yelling at him. He loved his life, and being late wasn’t going to ruin a good day for him.
Scotty tried to teach Cooper to fly remote control planes. He’d take him out to the field and give him the controls to one of the gliders. Cooper said he’d do fine after take-off, but when he had to turn the plane around and bring her back, well … Scotty would whine (he never really whined) when Cooper crashed the plane, “It took me hours to fix that up for you.” And then he’d laugh, and they’d start all over again.
Yesterday, I spent the day with Cooper and James doing business together in Oakland. The pain in the two young men was palpable. To lose two good friends is never easy. To lose them at the same time is hard to embrace.
I just keep going back to Cooper’s words — that Scotty was happier than he’d ever seen him. If life has to end, then let it be with that — great happiness.
We miss you, Scotty.
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