We've been away for a while. Where? In Fresno, California.
Fresno is one of those joke towns. It has no obvious redeeming features. It's an overpopulated flat place in the middle of California's San Joaquin Valley. It fancies itself the gateway to the high Sierras, but all that really means is that it is between people and the high Sierras. "In the way" might be a good way to describe Fresno's relationship to the Sierras.
In one of my favorite books, Science Made Stupid (now sadly out of print and hard to find), the author has a diagram of universal distances from the Earth, reaching to the edge of the solar system, on to the nearest star, to the nebula in Orion, on out to the radio galaxies at the edge of the known universe. Beyond that, he has an arrow that reads "Fresno."
We were in Fresno because John, a good friend of ours, is in the hospital there after crashing his plane. He shattered four vertebrae in his back, as well as breaking his legs, ankles, one arm, four ribs, his sternum--well, you get the idea. But he's alive, and all signs suggest he'll have a full, if slow and painful, recovery. There were three other passengers in the plane--his girlfriend Kris, her boy Benntt, and Bennett's dog. Bennett broke his legs but is okay.
Kris and the dog are fine. Here's a picture Kris took of what used to be a plane:
Being supportive types, we went up there and hung around for a few days, harassing John, and suggesting that if he insisted on crashing his plane again that should he do it in a less annoying locale (we're suggesting Catalina for future crashes--it's only 30 miles from here by hydrofoil, and has more amenities...as well as sand dunes, which are better suited to crashing into.)
As to the accident itself, he was pulling up from an aborted landing after seeing it was too foggy to land. (The Central Valley is famous for impenetrable, low-lying tule fogs.) But the engine suddenly died.
He was flying a Beechcraft Bonanza. Just a few days later, another Beechcraft Bonanza went down in the Central Valley in almost identical circumstances. The NTSB has hauled the wreckage of both planes off to a hangar somewhere to play Compare and Contrast.
John is a careful pilot; if he can go down hard, then it could happen to anybody. So be warned. Flying is dangerous. You could end up in Fresno.