Overcoming Adversity in Aviation

Overcoming Adversity in Aviation

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

I walked through the door of my apartment that night to see airplanes everywhere. There were pictures on my walls, models on the counters, and all of my aviation gear stacked neatly on the kitchen table. I had aviation magazines everywhere as I was a loyal subscriber to as many aviation publications as I could find. Aviation was more than just a hobby – it was my passion and my destiny. However, it was the last thing I wanted to see after coming home that night. I was tempted to put it all out of sight, but in the back of my mind I feared I would never bring it out again. I decided that that tonight was not the time to make life-changing decisions.

On January 3, 2012, I suffered a catastrophic nighttime engine failure in a Cessna 172. About 8 miles from the CXO airport at 1600ft, I heard a bang and the engine quit suddenly. The NTSB would eventually find that the rear crankshaft gear dowel pin failed causing the sudden stoppage, but at the time the only thing I could think about was finding a way to survive the event. I made a successful emergency landing on a highway after hitting power lines and swerving to avoid traffic, but my feelings about aviation were far from being settled. As a newly licensed private pilot, I had been flying between the Conroe airport (CXO) and West Houston Airport (IWS) every Tuesday for my evening Civil Air Patrol squadron meetings. I often took N54872, a trusty Cessna 172P that belonged to the Conroe CAP squadron. The squadrons were always looking to get the planes flying, and welcomed my weekly ritual of flying back and forth to the meeting. It was like any other Tuesday – except that night, I didn’t make it home. I wanted to quit – after all, all I had invested was the money and time for a private certificate.

The next days went by slowly. It was a trying time for my strength, courage, and sore body from the accident. Initially there was no evidence of mechanical failure with the engine and I was immediately grounded from CAP while the aviation community spread rumors that I had carb icing. I was not allowed to rent planes due to the impending “pilot error investigation”, and my short-lived pilot reputation sunk to its lowest level. However, one person changed it all for me. As I was pondering whether or not to continue in aviation, a CAP colleague of mine, Russell Peck, convinced me to come flying with him in his Cessna 182 that Saturday.

When I walked up to the plane on Saturday, my legs became weak. It felt as though I stepping out of the wrecked 172 a few days prior. My heart was pounding, but I pushed through all of that and stepped inside the plane. Just putting my seatbelt on made my palms sweaty, but I knew this was something I loved and I trusted the pilot I was with. As we left the ground, I could feel my anxiety leaving and I focused on the flying ahead. We went and had some fun up in the practice area, and I fell in love with aviation all over again, knowing that I couldn’t give up. The following weeks showed a shift in the investigation toward the overhaul shop after they found that improper maintenance was performed. My name was vindicated, and I had outpouring support from the Civil Air Patrol. I had to go up with an instructor again for a few months, and eventually was able to rent on my own again. Eventually the anxiety stopped in the plane and I started to grow in my aviation career.

I know many people (and pilots out there) struggle to get back up after getting knocked down. That night on January 3 wasn’t the first, and it sure wasn’t the last. I have been rejected by people I looked up to in the community, was unsuccessful at obtaining dream jobs, and had experiences that made me question my commitment to the profession. I knew I had found the 999 ways how not to invent the lightbulb, but I also knew that I couldn’t give up. For everyone out there struggling to figure out how to move forward after experiencing a setback, I know how it feels. Finding the courage to continue despite the adversity is something that many seek but do not always find. The strength to get back in that plane came from within, and it’s the same strength that has carried me throughout my career and life. Know that most of the people who are successful in life didn’t get there the easy way, or else they would have taken the path everyone traveled and they would be no different than the rest of the community that looks up to them. In Sarah Dessen’s words, “it’s the things you fight for and struggle with before earning that have the greatest worth.” And getting back in that airplane was worth the adventure and experience of a lifetime.

….and if you get the chance, be that person in someone’s life that keeps them moving toward their dreams!

NTSB Report: https://www.ntsb.gov/_layouts/ntsb.aviation/brief.aspx?ev_id=20120104X92439&key=1

4 thoughts on “Overcoming Adversity in Aviation

  1. Outstanding read, Sarah. Hopefully you will share this on a larger scale. Your insight is an inspiration to others. Well done.

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  2. Amazing, Sarah! So frightening! And yet, you survived!!! (and were cleared :)) It reminds me of my love of horses (as well as Aviation, although now I’m more of a horse person than a pilot). We horse people are taught, in order to keep on riding, that we have to get back up on the horse and ride again, after an incident. And I hear you — the fear is in our body, not just our mind. Sweat. Shortness of breath. Yet in getting back up and logging more good experiences than bad ones, we eventually overcome the anxiety, and reconnect with our passion. How wonderful of your “Airplane Angel” to take you back up. Best to you!!! Thank you for posting! Dawn

    You might find some insights from the following — https://journalofdawn.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/anatomy-of-an-accident-on-life-and-death-part-ii/

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