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When Aviation Claims a Friend

MonnettI’ve struggled all month debating whether or not to write this story.

We opinion leaders are supposed to be writing stories to capture the imagination of potential pilots or past aviators who’ve been away from the cockpit too long. Our stories are meant to encourage people.

But this tale is not one of those. I’m hoping if I tell it well enough, that some new or returning pilot will remember an important element of flying before they ever face a similar situation.

It’s still way too early to figure out what happened to the Sonex Sport Acro that claimed the life of my friend Jeremy Monnett earlier this month off the departure end of runway 9 at Oshkosh’s Wittman Regional airport. He was out showing a new mechanic a bit about an airplane Jeremy knew pretty well which perplexed me a bit when I heard about the accident.

At first I thought perhaps Jeremy had been flying some new Sonex creation that had possibly gotten away from him or that perhaps the weather had closed in around him or well, I don’t know to be honest. Neither of those turned out to be the case. The tower controller had his back turned when the crash occurred and so far there don’t seem to have been any witnesses. I do know he took off from the runway 9 intersection at runway 13 which probably gave him about 3,000 feet for takeoff. One source told me the propeller was found in tact which might mean the engine was not turning at the time of impact. More than that needs to wait for the NTSB report.

Early in June I was attending an aviation safety conference at EuroControl in Brussels when I first learned of my friend’s death. As I read the e-mail it was a bit surreal, as if I were really reading a story about someone else, a faceless name … one of those people we hear about who, gathered together each year, create the list of GA fatalities I write about.

This time though I knew the face and the man quite well in fact. Jeremy was just 40 actually, a kid to me, yet he’d already made a name for the company Sonex Aircraft that his mom and dad had founded long before they moved it to Oshkosh decades ago. I was still in Europe when the memorial took place for Jeremy at EAA’s Eagle Hangar, an event I’m told brought more than 2,000 mourners for this young man and the wife, two boys and other family members he left behind.

This accident reminded me of something an instructor once told me a long time ago just after I earned my private pilot certificate, something I never forgot and always passed along to pilots I ever checked out when I became an instructor, whether we were in a Cessna 150 or a Hawker 800. “Enjoy flying an airplane, for it is a privilege denied to many. But never forgot that you’re flying a machine and machines can fail. Never, ever assume the one you’re flying won’t decide that today’s the day it may try and catch you when you least expect it. Always, always be ready.”

It was wonderful knowing you Jeremy. I’ll be thinking of you at this year’s AirVenture buddy. It won’t be the same without you.

Your friend, Rob

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