Final Update: March 04, 2014
A few feathers have fallen out of the sky over the past few weeks, reminding me that I have not updated this page for nearly a year. It is now eighteen months since Richard Bach crashed his seaplane, Puff, coming in to land on San Juan Island on August 31, 2012.
With Puff rebuilt as good as new, the author of best selling book Jonathan Livingston Seagull has also rebuilt himself to again soar in the skies and write of his near-death experience in Illusions II: The Adventures of a Reluctant Student (which topped the Kindle Single’s list the day it was published on February 17, 2014). In the Introduction to Illusions II, Richard wrote:
When I came out of my coma, I was told that it would take a year to getter, to learn how to speak, stand, walk, run, read, drive a car, fly my airplane. The airplane was a wreckage.
I didn’t know why I lived, something promised on the other side of dying? There was no question that Puff, my seaplane had to fly again.
My life today, it took a little crash, a near death event, Sabryna’s certainty that I would be recovered from every suggestion of injury, my meetings with Illusion’s Messiah Donald Shimoda, with my other teachers, with Puff rebuilt; for this story to be told.
There’s no blessing that can’t be a disaster, and no disaster that can’t be a blessing.
Violent disasters, do they always become blessings? I hope so. I hope I can have my quiet little adventures, write them, without needing to die. – Richard Bach, December 2013
During his recovery, Richard returned to Jonathan Livingston Seagull after Sabryna found the manuscript for the fourth part of the book hidden away in a box. Richard had decided not to include Part Four at the time Jonathan was published because he felt it “wasn’t the time for it.” But reading it during his recovery he knew that its time for publication had come – even though it was 43 years later.
When Jonathan Livingston Seagull was published in 1970 it topped the New York Times Best Seller list for 38 weeks and led the Publishers Weekly list of bestselling U.S. novels in 1972 and 1973. And now, Jonathan Livingston Seagull: The New Complete Edition, is available as an e-book.
Visit Len Edgerly’s web site for links about Richard and other books he has written.
Richard’s book Travels with Puff: A gentle Game of Life and Death, was handed in to his publisher the day before his accident.
Travels with Puff is a beautiful story about Richard’s experiences learning to fly Puff (a SeaRey amphibian), and the adventure flying from Florida to Washington State with his friend Dan Nickens, who flew his SeaRey, Jennifer. While Richard recorded their trip in eloquent words on his blog, Dan recorded it with breath-taking photos, many of which appear in Richard’s book.
It was a delight to read about Richard’s whole experience from the beginning. After buying Puff and learning how to fly her in preparation for his long flight across North America, Richard shared his fears, mistakes, the friendships he made within the SeaRey community, and poignant times of learning to trust Puff’s voice in all matters of safety, and what happened when he didn’t. For me, the most enchanting aspect of Richard’s writing at the time was his developing relationship with Puff.
Four days before Richard’s accident he wrote in his blog, dated 27 August, 2012:
It’s probably time to get back to non-flying themes, but Puff and I’ve been flying just about every day…
She’s slower than most airplanes, but her natural habitat is over water, she doesn’t have to dodge microwave towers, avoid houses and barns and livestock, look out for high-tension lines. So when she’s snuggled down a few feet above the surface, that slow 80 mph feels like she’s going like a bat. (Although I haven’t clocked any bats, I think she’d keep up with most of ‘em.)…
So there you have it: images from parts of my day moving in the world of appearances alongside parts of six and a half billion other subjective days. It’s a big stage, seems like it, sometimes.
Perhaps it is ironic that the very thing Richard knew he had to avoid – high-tension lines – was what caused his accident – or rather, not seeing them while coming in to land on a grassy airstrip. While Richard was learning to fly Puff he wrote, “We don’t do crash tests after we’ve already found what we need to know. We go on to other tests. That’s a male trait? Women don’t test themselves?”
I couldn’t resist writing back, “Women don’t have a need to test themselves precisely because most have a voice like Puff within them: their intuition. And they simply ‘know’ the outcome of many situations without having to test them.”
I pointed at that each time Richard didn’t listen to Puff and take action on what she said, something untoward happened, or potentially could have gone very wrong. Or, in Richard’s own words, he “got bit.” Women, on the other hand, are more likely to test the validity of their intuition by following it so that no one comes to harm or no harm is done.
Well I remember the discussion I had with a yacht skipper towards dusk while on our way to Tonga from New Zealand and we were experiencing a wild storm with winds already gusting forty knots. I wanted to put a second reef in the mainsail and he wanted leave it with one reef in the hope of “out running” the storm. I could already feel the strain of the wind on the rigging as the yacht bounced from one wave top to the next. It was an extremely uncomfortable and rough ride and I was unable to cook any dinner that night.
Not listening to the yacht’s discomfort, she ‘bit’ us after dark when the wind split the mainsail right along the first reef. In wet weather gear in howling wind and rain and huge seas, I ended up on the helm to hold her steady while the skipper went up to the mast (without a safety harness because he had none) to put in a second reef.
I didn’t need the adrenalin rush of stuffing up on the helm and potentially tossing him overboard. Nor did I need to prove anything to myself. Fear was my predominant emotion knowing that a wrong move on the helm could potentially throw him overboard and I would have no hope of finding him in the dark in such heavy seas. Thankfully, when he was safely back in the cockpit, we pointed the bow into the wind, backwinded the headsail, lashed down the tiller, and hove to for the rest of the night. Inside everything was calm as the yacht became like a cork bobbing gently on the ocean. When we finally arrived in Tonga and a custom’s official asked who the skipper was, the skipper said we both were. So really I could say that my intuition was put to the test and proven to be correct.
This caused me to think a lot about Richard’s need to listen to Puff in all matters and respect and follow what she says, for that ‘voice’ was his intuition. And now it makes me wonder whether he was listening to it the day he crashed, or perhaps it was simply, in his own words, time to “go on to other tests.”
March 28, 2013
It looks like Richard has cleared many hurdles with flying colors and I am sure so many people’s good wishes have also helped him to rebuild himself as-good-as-new. Richard’s son, Rob, has let me know that he has “found new ways to operate the old Self: what Nature took away, she replaced with new tools for him to look at the world.
“If you spoke with him today, you’d not notice a thing wrong with him. His speech is nearly perfect though he is more poetic than he used to be. Beautiful turns of phrase are no longer edited out of everyday conversation.
“He’s walking strongly, eating well, and feeling pretty good despite the few things that still nag him.
“He’s back at the keyboard and writing lots of emails so I’m encouraging him to get back to the blog sooner than later. That in itself, I think, will be a good story worth reading.
“New book sales are strong and I think it’s his best work in a good long while.”
Richard is also planning to rebuild Puff to as-good-as new. He wrote: “Dan Nickens’ airplane, Jennifer, who flew across the continent with Puff, she’s offered her own spare wings to get Puff airborne again. What a kind gesture that is!”
December 21, 2012
James Bach reports on Twitter that members of his family visited him the day before and “describe him as ‘happy’, which is strange considering his condition, which is not great.” James also reports that “he appears to be getting a little stronger over the last week,” which is very encouraging.
Update on November 11, 2012
Richard Bach is now out of hospital, 8 weeks (almost to the hour) since the crash, according to Richard Bach’s daughter, Erika. According to his son, James, he is still very weak and needs to practice walking again. They are under no illusions that this will be a long, slow recovery. In spite of this, Richard is determined to do as much as he can for himself.
Update on October 28, 2012
After being in intensive care for some time, Richard Bach finally “woke up” and is alert. According to his daughter, he has turned a corner.” However his progress is slow, and although he may leave hospital soon and start home therapy, there are “a few big challenges left with his physical body,” according to his son, James Bach. Perhaps of most concern is that Richard’s brain injury has affected his speech, a brain disorder called aphasia.
His son, James, wrote on Twitter: “Interesting side effect of Dad’s head injury: almost every sentence is literally poetry. Imagine being forced to talk in obscure metaphors.” He also wrote that his “philosophical mind is there and ticking,” and that “he is applying his ideas about healing, etc. to himself, now.” However, “he’s pretty frustrated, but he seems determined to live and get through it at this point. That was not always apparent.”
You might also like to read:
September 15, 2012
Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is recovering in hospital from a serious head injury after his small amphibian plane he affectionately calls Puff, crashed when its landing gear clipped wires while attempting to land on a grass runway at San Juan Island on August 31.
May 30, 2011
Mark and Rowan Sommerset had a dream of creating children’s books when they first met ten years ago. Read about how they achieved their dream and won the coveted Children’s Choice Award in the 2011 New Zealand Post Children’s Book of the Year Awards.
October 01, 2013
An email from an American friend, who once ribbed me about Australia losing the America’s Cup in Perth, made an important point about this year’s cup final… Here I explore briefly the ways one can still be a winner after a loss.