Monday, June 05, 2006

Over the river and in the woods

This is a new one on me. I can't recall anyone else ever really getting lost before. Especially not in this day of radio contact with the crews. Poor Bill, it could take a lifetime to live this one down.
An experienced Cummington balloon pilot, William Volk, spent the night in the woods of Berkshire County after an emergency landing Sunday night. State police say Volk took off from Pittsfield Airport around 7 p.m. Sunday, but had to make an emergency landing in the October Mountain State Forest in Washington, Mass., after the wind kicked up.
I know Volk slightly. He's certainly competent and has hours and hours of flight time. I'm surprised it happened but then again we're talking about October Mountain. I got stuck lost myself there one frosty night. I think it may be the Bermuda Triangle of the South County Berkshires.

We were on the way from my sister's house and we're taking the shortcut back to Cummington. I wasn't driving but I was watching the road and I swear it intersection just disappeared in the dusk. By the time we realized we missed the turn, my ex was pissed and refused to turn back. He figured on making it over the mountain.

So we plowed on, soon literally plowing through mud on an deeply rutted unpaved road. We were in a regular sedan, my young daughter in the back seat. As the darkness dropped between the trees, we were almost to the top when we got stuck. I don't mean a little stuck. I mean two tires and half the undercarriage were embedded in mud. The kind of cold, oozy mud that sucks your boots off if you try to walk through it. As we circled the car, assessing the damage, it started to snow.

The ex, we were married at the time, let loose with ear splitting string of expletives. Kicked the car a couple of times, kicked the mud, kicked a couple of loose branches for good measure, and stalked up the road waving his arms in the air and pronouncing our imminent doom at the top of his prodigious lungs. However, this didn't alarm us because that was his customary response to crises.

Meanwhile, I surveyed the scene in the failing light and formulated the escape plan. By the time he thundered back I had managed to dig out some of mud around the tires with a stick and determined there was no way out but backwards - literally. No way we were going forward and there was no room to turn around. I had collected enough dry debris to fill in some of the ruts behind the tires and he discovered a board in the trunk of the car. Long story short, after much cursing, pushing and praying (on my part), and being sprayed with flying mud, we got the car out again. It was pitch black by now and it was a long ride down in reverse with the old man cursing a blue streak all the way. I know I was glad when we hit pavement again.

But at least we didn't have to spend the night in the middle of those woods like the balloon party did. Granted they would have the propane tanks and the burner for heat and to make a fire, but it's a big underdeveloped mountain just teeming with wildlife. I'll bet they heard some scary scrabbling in the dark.

They hiked out safely in the morning and successfully retreived the balloon as well. Wasn't too hard to find a giant rainbow puddle in the trees with a helicopter, so all's well that ends well. I'm afraid Volk's reputation will now rest on how well he landed. If the envelope doesn't need a lot of repair, he'll be a hero. It takes a lot of skill to land in trees.

I kind of wonder though if they'll refund the passengers' money or want to charge them double for the excitement. He is a lawyer after all....


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