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One crash to flash of life

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John Cook, 79, of Sequim, is looking up even after coming down hard in a plane crash last year.

Cook survived the crash of his 2005 Remos airplane on April 9, 2009, at Jefferson County International Airport in Port Townsend.

"I'm looking forward," he said. "I'm not looking back.

"I enjoy the 'back' and my memories, but that's what they are and I've still got a few things to do."

The plane was totaled, and Cook spent months in rehabilitation in Issaquah and Sequim.

Doctors repaired the left side of his crushed face by installing four plates and a plastic eye socket. His right leg is reinforced with steel, and it took extra time for a separated vertebra and cracked ribs to heal.

Time wasn't up

"I feel very fortunate," Cook said.

"No one knows when his time is going to be up and, frankly, mine wasn't."

A pilot since 1964, Cook said he was eager to take out his plane the day of the crash after a maintenance hiatus.

"I thought, 'I've got it all ready, why not do a circuit (a lap around the field),'" Cook said.

Cook remembers making his final approach before the engine cut out.

"Within a second or two, the aircraft moved almost 90 degrees," Cook said.

"That airport is famous for its wind gusts and wind shear. I was either too close to the ground when I was hit by the wind or my wheels were only a few feet from the ground and it flipped us over."

His next memory was waking up while being transferred to a rehab center nearly a month later.

Grounded

Cook can't recall much after the crash.

"I can tell you up to the point where they took me out of the plane," Cook said.

"Other than that, I lost a month."

Cook doesn't plan to pilot anymore because of the wreck.

"I've been up with a friend but my family doesn't want me to do it (alone)," Cook said.

As an agriculturalist working with fruit flies, Cook traveled the world several times, so flying isn't the problem, he said.

"An accident is an accident," Cook said.

"My problem is I'm not as fit as I was 10 years ago and not even two years ago before the accident.

"It has to do with if you feel you have the quickness and coordination. Who knows what could happen up there?"

He feels the risk is small but present.

"At 80, you have to recognize that and, if you don't, then you'll have a miserable life," Cook said.

Snapshot of a pilot

Following the accident, Cook's family and friends encouraged him to do something new.

"I needed to plan some sort of life, so I put aside 2010 to find some interests and take a break now and then," Cook said.

His first goal was taking up photography again by buying a new high-end digital camera.

"I've always been an avid photographer," he said.

"I've been very fortunate to photograph almost every major place in the world because of my business."

Flying had been out of Cook's mind for several years before the accident because his wife, Lenore, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2000.

He served as her round-the-clock caregiver for the past 10 years except when caregiver Helen Beegle filled in two days a week to give Cook a break.

He chose to take up flying again.

Reinvigorated interests

"With the grind of a 24/7 caregiver, Helen helped a great deal," Cook said.

His wife later moved to Dungeness Courte Alzheimer's Community.

"It was quite an adjustment to come to a home that's all my own now."

Due to his commitment to Lenore, hobbies still were put on the back burner.

"I've taken very few photos," Cook said.

"You get into a mental condition where the only thing you've been thinking about is taking care of someone."

Now he's going through old photos and cataloging them on his computer.

Family members introduced him to iTunes for creating his own music library along with photo files.

He said the combination could drive him or anyone crazy with fun.

Traveling again

Testing his comfort level and finding comfort were Cook's goals when he took a recent vacation with a cousin to Pacific Grove, Calif.

He said he and Lenore used to love going there. Being in its serene environment for a few weeks let him know if he was capable of more traveling.

Travel DVDs from Greece, Italy and other countries scattered in his living room indicate leaving Sequim for vacation isn't just a passing interest.

"I'd like to start revisiting my favorite places in the world," Cook said.

A few favorites he listed were Goa, India; Shanghai, China; Singapore; and Chile.

He plans to look up old friends from his business days.

What did he learn?

Cook turns 80 this month but his pace only slows when reflecting on the people he's met through tragedy.

He said being immobilized for some time showed him that impaired people epitomize true strength and encouragement.

"When you become one of them for a while and you are lucky enough to finally escape back to a normal life, you have a greater appreciation for these people who are bound for the rest of their life," he said.

"They're the big heroes."

Since hundreds of pounds of metal compacted around him a year ago, Cook sees himself as a survivor, not a hero.

"The experience has been bad on one side but given me another look at life on the other," he said.


Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.


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