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Remembering a fallen friend

It’s been three weeks since I heard the news about Alaska Airlines flight 261 nose-diving into the Pacific Ocean, all 88 passengers feared dead.

I empathized for those who waited at the airport for their loved ones who were aboard the ill-fated flight unaware that they were not going to see them again. I remember saying, “I don’t know anyone who has been to Mexico lately.”

Selfishly, I thought I was safe. I would never be in the position where I actually knew someone who tragically died and whose picture would be plastered on national television with soft background music.



Two weeks ago I boarded an Alaska flight back home to Seattle and said goodbye to my former boss Rod Pearson, his wife, Sarah, and his two young daughters, Rachel and Grace.

The day after the plane crash, the phone rang at my desk like it does dozens of times in a given day, but this call would turn my world upside down.



A good friend and former co-worker at the neighborhood restaurant where I worked my last two years of college struggled to inform me that my former boss and his family were among those who died.

The rest of the conversation was a blur. My eyes swelled and my body shook uncontrollably as placed the receiver back into its cradle.

I went home and was mesmerized by the 24-hour television coverage. What had been an anonymous crash now had four very familiar faces attached to it.

Rod was my boss and good friend. Anyone who has worked in the restaurant industry know how the madness of long, strenuous hours paired with the after hours glass of wine builds strong relationships, a second family of sorts.

Rod was part owner of the popular restaurant where I tended the bar. He hired me when I was 21. I was the baby of the tight-knit group who coddled me through my last two years of college.

During my interview years ago, I was intimidated by the tallest short man I have ever known. He had red hair, piercing blue eyes, was dressed impeccably, and his restaurant was his passion. Instantly I respected him.

I stopped paying attention to Rod’s half-hour mission statement (he had a tendency to ramble) and peered underneath the table. Rod was wearing beautiful leather shoes on his small feet and I’ve always believed a lot could be said about a man by his shoes.

I saw a man’s polished dress shoe and a stuffed animal that had been pulled out of the ocean onto the deck of a fishing boat helping in the recovery efforts. Rod and his family’s deaths became real to me.

Suddenly I was inside the plane’s cabin attempting to create the horror of a 12-minute, corkscrew nose-dive and what it could have been like.

Thankfully I can’t. I don’t want my last memory of Rod and his family to be based on news reports.

I want to believe the plane’s dive acceleration of negative 3 Gs (objects in the plane were pulled to the tail of the plane at three times the force of gravity) killed the 88 passengers upon impact with the ocean.

My last conversation with Rod was wonderful. He told me that he was proud of me and that he loved having me work for him. I reciprocated.

He flashed his smile, hugged me, and sent me on my way. At the memorial service I walked up to the picture displayed among hundreds of flowers, placed a bouquet of white tulips below it, and sent Rod on his.


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