If the Cessna you were co-piloting crashed into a mountain in a remote part of Virginia on a frigid night, there are a number of things you wouldn't want to happen: Your cellphone to be lost in the crash. Your emergency radio's battery to be dead. Your feet to both be broken. Your flight instructor to have failed to file a flight plan, or even write your destination (which had changed) on a whiteboard. Your fiancee, who would notice you hadn't returned home, to be in Moscow. A black bear to approach your wreckage. And yet all these things were exactly what John Hicks faced on the night of Nov. 8, 2014, after what began as another session in an attempt to fulfill his lifelong dream of getting his pilot's license instead turned into an against-the-odds battle for survival in the George Washington National Forest.
As the Washington Post reports in a piece by John Woodrow Cox, Hicks did indeed survive, though flight instructor Bernie Charlemagne did not. Much of the credit for Hicks being saved goes to JB, his fiancee's then-13-year-old son, who woke at 11pm and realized Hicks wasn't home. He called 911, and wouldn't get off the phone until the dispatcher believed him that something was amiss. Credit also goes to Hicks' cellphone, which ended up some 20 feet from the plane and managed to ping a tower. Cox's piece gets into the details of the rescue, as well as a look at what went so wrong: Charlemagne "had inadvertently flown an under-control Cessna into a mountain," he writes, and it wasn't the only mistake he made that night. Read Cox's full piece here. (Read more Longform stories.)