Into the Sea: Love, Death, and Other Near Misses

July 1, 2020

ONCE AGAIN it’s the first day of July — the anniversary of the day, in 1986, when I was nearly killed in a small-plane collision over Nantucket Sound.

In interviews I’m often asked about my most memorable or frightening close call. Apparently a lot of people dig hearing pilots talking about being scared or screwing up. The story below, which I post every year on this date, is my response to that question.

The fact that my answer takes us back more than three decades, to when I was but a 20 year-old private pilot at the controls of a four-seat Piper, should underscore the incredible safety of flying in general, and especially of commercial flying.

With me in the airplane that afternoon was a young girl with whom I long ago lost touch, and whose beauty and peculiarities are detailed in the story that follows. I have no idea what her own recollections of that day might be, but mine remain crystal clear.



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22 Responses to “Into the Sea: Love, Death, and Other Near Misses”
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  1. Peter F says:

    I read this every year when it comes around. Patrick, you are a gifted writer. What a great read! It reminds me every time that we are all in some way living on borrowed time, perhaps like Patrick after a near miss with the Grim Reaper.

  2. Deb says:

    I’ve read this before, you really do make the story “come alive”. I’m glad you’re here to tell the tale, too!

  3. Len Drasin says:

    Your writing skills are marvelous, and I hope and assume your flying skills are just as good.

  4. Peter Fulton Foss says:

    Hey, Patrick. It was not a near miss; it was a near collision. A near miss would indicate that you did, indeed collide.

  5. Jim Kurk says:

    My near miss:

    South of Iceland on a cruise ship, 9 am, crows nest, thick fog, 20 ft seas, drinking coffee and reading. Odd, what’s that noise? Getting louder – I yell out HOLY S$$t! The noise was a helicopter, the view was the bottom on the chopper some 50 ft off my direct view on a hard bank to miss the ship, swing my neck around to see it veer off to starboard. And it was gone (much like your mid air encounter). I apologize for my language to the only other person in site – elderly woman who apparently did not notice or care. I ask the crew about the incident but no one knows, or are not saying, anything. What would have been an international incident is relegated to my (and I assume the chopper pilot’s) memory. Continue cruise, and live happily ever-after. JK

  6. Art Knight says:

    I live by a lake and have had a Cessna 172 float plane nearly brush my 75 foot tall tree tops. I could see the pilot’s face. It was close. A 200 foot jet at 59′ feet is as they say in NASCAR nearly “tradin’ paint!”

  7. Art Knight says:

    The National Transportation Safety Board says Air Canada flight No. 759 was just 59 feet above the ground at its lowest point, flying over a United Airlines jetliner waiting to take off, before the Air Canada plane pulled up, circled around and then landed safely.

  8. Art Knight says:

    What a wonderful tale. Please share it here.

  9. Mark says:


    What do you think about the AC769 “near miss” incident at SFO?

  10. Carlos Si says:

    Near-miss? Shouldn’t it be a near-hit šŸ˜› ?

  11. chriss slike says:

    If you are as good of a pilot as you are a writer,I hope you are flying my plane to Sydney in August!!!

  12. Katherine says:

    This is a wonderful story, beautifully written. I’m glad you were still here to write it.

  13. Speed says:

    In interviews Iā€™m often asked about my most memorable or frightening close call.

    You could respond by asking if they’ve ever had a close call in a car.

  14. Carlos says:

    Splendidly written, Patrick. I wish many journalists could narrate equally well.
    Have you thought of becoming a full-time writer?

  15. Scary for sure-once on Westair Cessna claiming out of SMF captain looking left, co-pilot down at approach charts out of the sun comes a single engine plane that came so close to hitting us I could see the fillings in the pilots teeth (exaggeration) – neither pilot saw it, I never said anything as I was in hear stopping shock – never wanted to be on the ground more even though danger was over – had hard time getting on AA DC-10 to JFK same day.

    How did you learn to weave metaphors so well not your writing? You are one of the best I’ve ever read, and I’m not trying to KYA.

    Your math is getting too hard proving I’m human

  16. Nicholas Robinson says:

    Although I read it before, reading it again was a pleasure. Easily one of your best pieces, Patrick.

  17. Rod says:

    Yes, Love Cats. Stuck in my head too.

    Well fortunately the sky is a very big place. And you can scan it till you’re blue in the face and still have a mid-air. But then you can get hit by a meteor too. A strong dose of active vigilance with a pinch of fatalism would seem best.

  18. Vinny Noggin says:

    No, actually it’s all true:

    Preparing Cats for Air Travel

    “Acclimate your cat to air travel over an extended period. Leave the air carrier open at home so your cat can enter and exit it. Place enticing toys and treats inside to encourage exploration. Reward your cat when it enters the carrier. As your day of departure gets closer, place a comfort object with your scent in the carrier that you can keep inside when your cat travels in the cabin.”

  19. Now I’ve got Love Cats stuck in my head. I had a similar experience nearly colliding with a boat in the middle of the ocean and I still shudder to think of it.

    This is beautiful Patrick, hope she gets to read it.

  20. Andrew Sommer says:

    A really nice read and thanks for sharing it.

    I knew a girl like that once too, and my date with her ended pretty much the way yours did. Life goes on from there…

  21. FatguyfromQueens says:

    So have you crossed paths with Dorothy lately? Does she know you blogged about your shared experience? Is she married with 2.2 kids in the ‘burbs?

    Sorry but after re-reading this I’m intensely curious.

    • Nicholas Robinson says:

      Dorothy lives with her husband, Herb, in a semi-detached bungalow in Rockaway, New Jersey, very close to where the mobster Paul Vario used to have a residence.

      She’s an insurance claims adjuster and he runs a CD and vinyl shop in Bensonhurst.

      They have no children, but two dogs named Sally and Patrick.

      Patrick is a pitbull.