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First wreck


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I was going too fast.

That’s what it comes down to. Until now I really couldn’t remember any of it. I still don’t remember the two or three seconds before the accident, but since the dream, the incident itself seems much more vivid.

I am in the right seat of a US Army H-60 Blackhawk helicopter. Not uncommon in my position as an instructor pilot in the airframe. The thing that is striking is that I’m on an approach angle towards trees. It’s night, a very dark NVG night. I know they’re trees because the surface is fuzzy, it’s definitely not a clear LZ I’m looking at. The rate of descent is disturbing and I’m trying to express that to the other pilot as we continue unabated in a machine I am not in control of. He is flying. I am not in control.

“TREES, TREES, TREES” I yell as I try to increase collective and escape unharmed from the obvious oversight of my companion and my bewildering lack of timely action. But it’s too late. The engines try, but the rotor slows and the decent continues. An incredibly loud series of snapping sounds, like machine gun fire, fills the cockpit as rotor blades, branches and airframe yield to one another, leaving a swath of metal and wood behind me. The only thing I accomplished was slowing the decent, transitioning downward motion into forward.

Suddenly, it is dark and quiet. I execute the emergency engine shutdown, at least I’ll do something right here, but it seems the engines are already off line. A good precaution anyway. Unbuckling I look around. The cabin and cockpit “livable space”, as the accident teams always term it, seems to be intact. After a moment or two I notice my copilot and passengers are stirring, seemingly none the worse for wear. We step out of the aircraft to survey the damage. It is very quiet. They sky is perfectly clear and cold, stars piercing the moonless darkness. No one is hurt and we walk away from the machine.

The bike.

On the GRA zipping around Rome. Finally, a little sun after a morning of rain, again.

The past two days have been great except for the rain. I can’t wait to get back to those roads when I have my own bike here. Riding along the Amalfi Coast and the Gargano peninsula has been some of the best riding I’ve seen. The rain has kept me really slow though. The rental R1200GS is shod with Tourances, a tire I’m not familiar with and that doesn’t seem quite as sticky as the Pilot Roads I’m used to. Twice in the past two days, I’ve locked up the brakes, no ABS either. I figured that out after the front wheel locked, going down hill in a left hand turn on a wet road. We didn’t go down though, cleaned the drawers, and off we went. Using the rear brake a little more now though.

Cautiously I picked my way through the hills and cliffs of the Italian coastline. Carefully negotiating tight hairpin switchbacks. Left, right, left, 180’s in and out of the cliffs, some parts of the road almost overlapping itself climbing, and descending. It was amazing. My only wish was that it was dry.

We jumped onto the autostrada to make some time towards Rome. Janet wants to see the Pope, I want to see God in the mountains on the GS. She consented to the bike I concede to the Pope. That foolish autostrada thing is expensive. Twenty five euro to ride from the east coast to Rome. The “Pike” from Boston to Sturbridge is a longer ride, and that’s like six bucks.

Finally through the tolls and onto the GRA we start counting exit numbers to the off ramp that gets us closest to the Vatican and the hotel we have reservations at for the next couple of nights.

There it is, I start my turn off to the ramp and …I don’t remember.

I look up and I’m headed for Jersey barrier, why am I not turning? I’m way to fast, way to square, I can only lean and pray. I am not in control. He is driving.

The front tire slips off the asphalt onto a thin line of concrete, a runoff between the road and the barrier. Slowly it seems the bike lands on its left side, plastic and metal parts yielding to the pavement as Janet and I slide back across the lane. J is off quick and standing, hands up stopping traffic as I continue to slide another 30 feet with the wounded machine. The GS pulls away from me and I come to a stop against the barrier on the inside of the turn. As soon as I stop, I’m up looking for Janet and praying she’s OK. I am such an ass. What have I done? She’s there running towards me thank God. Maybe a visit to the Pope to say thanks isn’t such a bad idea.

The bike is still spinning, doing donuts on itself, throttle stuck open. Eventually, on one pass, I get close enough to hit the kill switch and it’s finally over. We both walk away, almost completely unharmed.

Some amazing things happened after that. A bunch of people tried to help us. Janet managed to ask, in some combination of Spanish, Italian and English for someone to call the police. Someone did, and they came quickly. Another rider on a 1150GS stopped to help me pick up the bike, clear the lane of traffic and collect all the bits of bike. Little things like panniers. Thankfully there were two or three people who spoke fluent English, it made our lives a lot easier. A huge thank you to those who stopped to help out.

Damage to the bike, the obvious; the left pannier is almost broken clean off. One of the mounting hooks is broken and the locking tab is pulled away from the bike, it’s not going to stay on. Oh and the lower corner of the box is melted/ground off from the donuts. The handle bars are loose. At some point the impact on the left side of the bike knocked the handlebars out of the mounting on the triple tree. The grooves that normally lock the bar in place are well clear of any gripping surface. The handlebars just flop. The left valve cover is badly scraped, but not through, thanks to the valiant effort of the now wasted engine protection bar. The valve cover would have probably sustained very little damage if it had even had the simple black protector on it, but it didn’t. Left side passenger footpeg is sheared off. I have no idea at what point that happened. I would have thought the pannier would have prevented the contact.

The not so obvious: The forks are bent, the frame that mounts the front end to the bike is bent and the front wheel is also wrecked. I think the front end may have struck the inner barrier that I came to rest against while it continued spinning down the road.

Gear: Janet’s Feldsheir pants did their job but are officially toasted. There is melted nylon along the contact points where she slid. I’m thankful that we weren’t going any faster, they may have worn through. Her left glove saved her hand. This is not an overstatement. There was a fraction of the last of three layers of leather left on the heel of the glove. I don’t want to think about what would have resulted without it. Her Killi jacket, no damage. Sidi boots, scuffed but OK. Arai helmet, no damage, no contact. Janet also had a raspberry on the back of her right calf. It wasn’t road rash. The only thing we could figure is that the inside of the pant leg caused the abrasion. Her cuffs were unzipped, and we think that may have allowed enough movement in the pant leg to cause the injury.

Mine, Darien pants, a little ripped at the cuff but they don’t seem to be damaged from the slide aside from the red paint on the knee from the jersey barrier. I think they’ll be OK. Savanna jacket, that is one tough jacket it took the brunt of the slide and seems to be only dirty. I’ll have to inspect it closer when I get home. Gloves, no contact no damage. Arai helmet no contact, no damage. My left Sidi boot was trashed. The layer that protects the leather from the shifter was all pulled back and the stitching is gone.

Long story short, I was going too fast. I don’t know if anything else contributed but I’ve got a few ideas, but they’re still my fault.

1. I was going too fast. This area is under construction, I outran my sight line and got into trouble.

2. I was complacent. After two or three days of picking my way of some of the most difficult riding I had done, in the rain, two up, on a fully loaded bike, what could possibly happen on a dry, gently sweeping off ramp?

3. Fatigue, zoning, I don’t know, but mentally I wasn’t driving for a couple of seconds and my wife and paid for it.

4. I was in unfamiliar territory, on an unfamiliar bike trying to read signs in a foreign language. I was a little distracted.

5. I am deployed to the Middle East and this was my mid tour leave. I hadn’t been at the controls of a motorcycle in over a year. Rome, also where we picked up the bike, was certainly not the place to relearn two wheels on a 700 lb motorcycle.

I desperately wanted to be back on a bike. I missed it, and can’t wait to get home and get back on, but I stacked the deck against myself. I lost. Thankfully this time the price was only money and some gear. I’ll work vehemently to prevent a next time.

6. There may have been some material in the road that limited my available traction. This is what I initially believed and the Carabiniri think may have been the case. (see number 1).

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Good grief Charlie Brown!!!!!!!


Thanks for sharing. Thanks for being able to share! eek.gifeek.gif


Glad the outcome of BOTH incidents were eligible for the video series, "And They Walked Away!"


Good lesson for all of us to take notice of the things that can get in our way of starting and completing a ride!!! thumbsup.gif


Glad you and the bride are OK!

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Glad to here you and the wife are OK. That is the important part. You do owe the big guy a thank you.


You have probably analyzed the cause(s) correctly. All morning on the switchbacks then a ride down the Autostrada. Add the distraction of an unknown and difficult to decipher exit along with a little fatigue and you have the formula for a boomie. In a construction zone, who knows what kind of road snot can get carried onto the pavement.


Wallet will heal, bike can be fixed, a lesson learned on on towards better days.


Thanks, BTW, for the job you are doing over there. Hope we can find a way to bring you all home ASAP.

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Just to clarify Phil, the helicopter part was a dream, thank God, the trees were much more forgiving than they would be in a real crash sequence. I am a Blackhawk pilot and it seem this was the venue my subconcious decided to use to clarify the motorcycle accident. It's weird but when I woke up the bike accident sequence seemed to make a lot more sense.


Ed, I'm stationed at a transition point in Kuwait. Unfortunately we watch hundreds of soldiers arrive and depart each day. I don't think we're leaving any time soon.

I on the other hand will be home in a couple of months to finally wrap up a 16 month deployment, thank goodness.



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Glad you are still here to tell the story and you and your wife are in good shape. Great post-event write-up.


Stay safe and we look forward to having you and your wife back in the states on your own bike.



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Sorry to hear that, Thad. Glad you are OK.


Looks like a pretty honest post-crash assessment and sounds like you resisted the survival instincts. Hope you get back to the states soon and can ease back in to it.

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Thanks everyone for the kind words.


Mark, the one thing I think I did right was to try and turn the bike. Just the attempt to make the turn, I believe put us in a better position to survive the accident.

Yes, the one I caused.

But when I "woke up", headed for the barrier, it was the most vivid thing I remember, lean, roll and pray the tires hold. They didn't. But I think I scrubbed off enough of the energy headed in the direction of the barrier to prevent a high side over it. I firmly believe that had I tried to straighten up and go for max braking we would have been catapulted over the barrier to far more severe consequences.

I rode the bike to the ground, which is why I think I slid so much further than Janet.

I just wish I had the presence of mind to hit the kill switch once the bike was solidly in the slide. I had time, just not the focus. The Carabniri joked that Valentino Rossi would throw his hands up in surrender if he saw my donuts on the off ramp.

To be clear, I didn't "lay the bike down". It was a concious last ditch effort to make the turn. I ran out of traction or lean angle before I could get through it. Heck I may have inadvertantly broken traction by inappropriately applyting some throttle when I attempted to turn.

I never did get to go back to the scene and try to piece it together, though we'll be getting the official police report in the next month or so.

Thanks again,


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Thank God (or the Pope ;) that you and she are alright. Now just make it through the rest of yoru deployment....Although it may be safer then riding a motorcycle in Rome dopeslap.gif

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Hey Thad, glad you and the Janet are OK! It's so tough when you go down with your better half on board. I am so glad you both weren't hurt.


Hang in there chief I know that was not what you wanted on Mid break! Try to enjoy the rest of the time off!



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Hey Thad. Life sucks at times, but at least you guys are here to talk about it. I am glad all is okay. You had me confused for a minute on the Hawk crash. That would have been much worse I'm afraid.


Keep your head straight and get back to us in one piece!


Have you finished the new ACT-E yet? Hopefully contined education on Aircrew Training will prevent your scenario from happening.

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Thanks everyone. I really hope it wiil be the last wreck, but I'll definitely prepare myself better for anything like that in the future. Both by working on my skills to stay out of the situation and by making sure all our gear is quality stuff and in good shape. The results would have been much worse without the gear.


Only a couple of months left, and the deposit for my new to me R1200GS left in the mail on Thursday. It's going to be a long couple of months.


Steve, I might be down to Rucker for the ACT-E instructors course sometime in the few months after we get back, until then, when ever I give up the controls I pick up the crash axe. grin.gifeek.gif


I do have to say though, I gave four checkrides yesterday and the autos had me a little twitchy in my seat. I rode through the maneuvers on the controls with the guys. There aren't any trees over here, but I'm not taking any chances. wink.gif



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Just to clarify Phil, the helicopter part was a dream, thank God, the trees were much more forgiving than they would be in a real crash sequence. I am a Blackhawk pilot and it seem this was the venue my subconcious decided to use to clarify the motorcycle accident. It's weird but when I woke up the bike accident sequence seemed to make a lot more sense.



Glad the helio part was a dream - it read to nightmare to the rest of us eek.gif


Glad you and your bride are okay and your gear did their intended job on an un-intended part of your journey.


I also thank you for the job you are doing for your country thumbsup.gif

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I am glad you were neither hurt, other than pride and some minor scrapes. I hope you and all your fellow military teams know how proud we are of all of you for what you are doing for our country. I pray for you every day and have my flag flying proudly for you every day. Getting a bit faded, but won't be without one flying outside my home until you are all back home with us.


The potential for both of you to get hurt or killed in that crash is so high that you have to know that you had a higher power looking out for you. Thanks to them for your survival.

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