Letter to the Editor

Sky King column

Monday, August 20, 2018

A recent opinion piece in the Spencer Daily Reporter caught my attention, and evoked a few conflicting emotions. Daily Reporter staff writer Joseph Hopper was dealing with the Aug. 10 "baggage handler suddenly a pilot" story in his piece titled "Adieu, Sky King.” The more the story unfolded in real time, the more emotions surfaced: wonderment, fear, curiosity, panic, empathy and sadness. The writer's commentary captured the irony and pathos inherent in the hijacking incident. For a while, I was almost pulled down the empathy trail to feel a certain connection with the 29-year-old Richard Russell. However, when I got to the part about "online communities and the would-be pilot,” I got jolted back to reality.

You see, I was raised on TV shows such as "Sky King" ("From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King!" was the voice over as the show began). Throw in "Have Gun, Will Travel,” "Dragnet,” "The Ozzie and Harriet Show” and Art Baker's "You Asked For It,” and you have some pretty decent viewing, in my opinion. So the reference to Sky King "resonated,” as they say. All that changed once I got into the second half of Joseph's piece. The reality of a suicidal joy ride started hitting home. My spirits were far from soaring. Yes, no doubt many were asking out loud, or to themselves, "Could anyone have prevented this?" This could have been a full-fledged terrorist attack, complete with other planes in danger, or crashing into each other. We are told, however, "It was ultimately a cry for help and a statement — Russell wanted to be remembered."

I hope our superficial, self-centered, "got to get my 15 minutes of fame" culture doesn't continue to elevate this guy to rock star status. I was reminded of a time, some 30 years ago, when Sens. Lloyd Bentson and Dan Quayle were in a televised vice presidential candidates debate. The younger (by far) Quayle tried to compare himself to the late President John F. Kennedy. The elder statesman delivered the death blow when he calmly and firmly retorted: "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy!" In a similar vein, Richard Russell is no Sky King. Not even close. The real Sky King of television lore would never put people at risk, in an effort to "make a statement.” Too bad for his surviving family members. They deserve better. So do the folks of any age group who might be tempted to follow in his footsteps, and go flying off into the wild, blue yonder.

Bill Kersting, Spencer