A bum leg was the last thing that was going to hold back Lloyd Brown, 74, from returning to Sequim’s skies on Saturday.
Paralyzed in the left leg from a 2002 construction accident, Brown, an aviation enthusiast and U.S. Navy veteran, found himself soaring the Sequim skies once again with the help of some new friends.
Crews with Clallam County Fire District 3, Casey’s Kettle Corn and the Olympic Peninsula Air Affaire helped Brown fly with the Ageless Aviation Dreams program, a nonprofit foundation that provides free flights in a 1942 Boeing Stearman biplane for seniors and veterans.
To get Brown airborne, many people went to great lengths to get him there, his twin brother Lyle Brown said.
First the brothers went to the Sequim Valley Airport the night before the Olympic Peninsula Air Affaire to see if it was even possible for Lloyd to catch a flight. At the airport they met Captain-Crystal Stout, a hot air balloon captain, and Diane Winterboer, the tour coordinator for the flights program.
“I told them I’d like to get (on the list), and from there it was Diane and Crystal’s mission to get me in the plane,” Lloyd Brown said.
Mike Winterboer, volunteer pilot for the program, said Brown told him he tried to buy a ride at another event but they wouldn’t accompany him due to his wheelchair and condition.
“I told him we can’t guarantee it but we can at least try,” he said.
Enter: the fire department.
Using a ladder gin, a method typically used for disaster preparations, firefighters attached Brown to a seat, hoisted him up about seven feet and backed the airplane into position for him.
Casey Dennis, owner of Casey’s Kettle Corn, said the fire department wanted to make it happen.
“It could have been, no, the liability is too great,” he said. “But instead it was, ‘We can make this happen.’ It was pretty cool.”
Moments after being seated in the plane, Brown was off for about 20 minutes flying toward Sequim Bay, then up the coastline halfway to Port Angeles before returning to the airport.
Brown said the last time he flew over Sequim was 1961.
“That’s back when it was all dairy farms and it looked quite different,” he said.
When they landed, emotions on the field were high, especially for Brown.
“I was so honored, I barely held the tears back,” he said.
But nobody else did.
“I don’t think there was a dry eye,” said Roxanne Brickey, Lyle Brown’s significant other.
Winterboer said it was a moving experience.
“It meant a lot to us to accommodate him especially when people before said they didn’t want to deal with him,” he said. “It was a community effort. Without the fire department there’s no way it would have happened.”
Brown wasn’t the lone passenger for the weekend.
Ageless Aviation Dreams took out 30 other veterans, including Lyle, a U.S. Navy veteran. Many of the veterans, some in their 90s, served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Dennis said he is friends with the founder of the foundation and wanted to do whatever he could to bring the program to Sequim including paying for the plane’s gas.
“Covering their fuel was the least we could do,” Dennis, a veteran and pilot, said. “They were more than willing to cover the costs themselves.”
Lloyd Brown, a Sequim native and current Green Valley, Ariz., resident, said getting the opportunity to fly in a Boeing Stearman with the organization was an honor. “I thank them all endlessly,” he said.
Since his accident in April 2002, Brown has rediscovered adventures like this one are still obtainable — yet his accident remains a topic of discussion.
While working as a demolitions contractor replacing the Princeton Bridge in Seattle’s Hawthorne Hills neighborhood, he was on top of the bridge when the structure gave way tipping his vehicle. He was pinned at the pelvis between his console and a bridge support for nearly three hours. He sustained a severe pelvis crush and several internal injuries and was later treated at Harborview Medical Center for eight months with 29 surgeries.
“And he lived,” Lyle said.
“Against all odds,” Lloyd said.
The fascinating thing to Lloyd Brown, he said, is that 98 percent of the time when pressure is taken off a pelvis in those conditions people go into cardiac arrest.
“It’s amazing my organs didn’t shut down,” he said.
Yet he continues to do what he loves including wood working.
“I’ve been told I’m inspirational to people because of what I do,” he said. “I get past my disability a lot and I don’t let this hold me back too far. I’m very independent.”
Brown’s independence can be stated by his black eye, too.
He was going to his car to visit friends when his feet tripped up his wheelchair causing him to tumble.
Brickey offered him an ice pack, which he denied and he drove off a short time later once cleared to meet his friends.
While the black eye may be a good conversation starter, Brown said the flight is one more thing off his bucket list.
“I told them another thing I’d like to do is jump out of a perfectly good airplane,” he said.
“Of course, it’d have to be a tandem and the opportunities in Southern Arizona are good but I don’t know if it’ll happen.”
For more information on the Olympic Peninsula Air Affaire, visit olympicpeninsulaairaffaire.com.