(October 2011) It's an old story. As old as the Greeks, in fact, though it has been retold many times and in many versions. Its erotic, pathetic, heroic and cautionary elements receive different emphases from authors with different axes to grind. In brief, Leander was a youth who lived on one shore of the Hellespont, the narrow strait that separates Greece from Asia Minor. He became the lover of a priestess of Aphrodite — her name was Hero, pronounced more like hair-oh — who dwelt on the other shore. He would visit her nightly, swimming across the channel while she set out a lantern to guide him. One night it was stormy, and Leander drowned.
The worldly-wise Lord Byron once swam the Hellespont in Leander’s honor. He later complained that, while the brave Greek youth won eternal fame, all he got for his pains was a cold.
What moral should we draw from the story of Leander? That love cannot, in fact, conquer all? That youthful rashness and rough water go ill together? Perhaps something more general, about recklessness and any sort of dangerous activity.
A 21-year-old Alabama man began taking flying lessons on Oct. 30. He got his student certificate a week later, at that point reporting six hours of flight experience. In his application for the third-class medical, he did not mention that he had used a prescription antidepressant when he was 18, and had then been treated with a series of other medications for a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a recently discovered ailment mainly of disruptive or unfocused schoolboys. For the past few months he had been taking daily doses of Adderall, an amphetamine “study drug” with the paradoxical property of stimulating the enervated while calming the overstimulated.
The student pilot pursued his flying lessons assiduously. He made his first solo flight in the pattern on Dec. 20 and his second on the 23rd. An instructor endorsed his logbook for solo flying within 25 miles of the home airport, with limitations: daytime only, no passengers, wind not to exceed 10 knots, maximum crosswind six knots, ceiling above 2,300 feet and visibility no less than six miles. The instructor also explained these limitations to him verbally.
At this point he had logged 26 hours, a quarter of them at night. He had not yet received any cross-country instruction.
On Dec. 23, the student pilot bought himself a 37-year-old, recently annualed Cherokee 140.
The evening of Dec. 24 was forecast to be stormy, with wind and rain. An instructor, observing the student fueling his newly acquired airplane a little after noon, told him that he “needed to be through flying for the day” because of the weather. The student agreed and said that he would put the airplane away.