Saturday, October 13, 2012

Remembering the Death of John Denver

Yesterday was a somber anniversary for me, so somber, in fact, that I could scarcely think about it, much less write about it.

It was the 15th anniversary of the private airplane crash that took the life of singer John Denver.

Denver was one of my favorite singers when I was in my early teens, and he was one of my mother's favorite singers, too. Mom died in a flood a couple of years before Denver died while piloting an experimental plane that he had recently purchased, crashing into the Pacific Ocean near Pacific Grove, Calif.

When I heard of Denver's death, I felt as if I had lost Mom all over again.

Denver had extensive flying experience. In fact, he purchased an airplane and flew himself to concerts around the time that I really started listening to his music. I actually did see him perform once, and, for all I know, he may have flown himself there.

About a year before his death, though, the Federal Aviation Administration became aware that he had not abstained from alcohol after his drunk driving arrests and revoked his medical certification. Consequently, at the time of his fatal crash, Denver was not authorized to fly.

But when his body underwent an autopsy, no signs of alcohol or drugs were found in his system.

The actual reason for the crash, the FAA determined, was that Denver was unable to switch fuel tanks in flight. The fuel in the tank that was in use had been almost entirely depleted when the plane was transferred to nearby Monterey and Denver did some practice maneuvers before taking off on his final flight.

The design of the plane made it impossible for the pilot to safely switch tanks while strapped in his seat.

Sadly, an offer to refuel the plane was made, but Denver declined, saying that he would only be flying for about an hour.

He was 53 at the time of his death.