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My fear of flying

Taking Note

by Regional Editor Nora Edinger

If Erin Brockovich can reveal it, so can I.

I'm not talking about skin. It seems we (and who knows how many other Americans) share a fear of flying.

The sassy environmentalist appeared at a local lawsuit meeting by video Monday. It turns out a woman who isn't afraid to take on corporate piranha just can't get herself on an airplane these days.

People in the audience smilingly "aahhhhed" when they heard the news. With her, this small weakness seemed almost endearing.

Ed Masry, the California attorney who is Brockovich's boss and fellow film celebrity, told the audience she has never liked air travel, but the Sept. 11 atrocities have left her grounded.

Masry said she even took a short flight last week with a psychiatrist to try to calm her nerves. It didn't work.

Ditto (except for the psychiatrist part).

My therapy came in the version of a recent interview visit to Lockheed Martin in Clarksburg. I touched the featherweight fronts of airplane wings with my own hands and was impressed and relieved at how solid they were.

It almost reassured me, even though I had a sneaking suspicion the military aircraft Lockheed makes are a little on the beefy side compared with commercial airliners. At least I hope so.

Monday's crash broke the momentum, however -- especially if it was an accident.

The idea of a plane breaking apart and crashing by accident is even less appealing than a hijacking. At least in the second case there is a slim chance of a good outcome.

Not so with the accidental crash. Death is swift and certain.

As I watched film footage of the burning ruins of American Airlines Flight 587, I mourned for yet more victims and wondered if I will ever get on a plane again.

The rational part of me hopes I will someday. There are many places that are only realistically accessible by flying. We may want to visit them.

In the meantime, I keep reminding myself there are even a few aspects of flight I enjoy -- primarily the take-off.

Until I started flying I didn't realize how much I like speed. It's a real rush going from 0 to who knows how many miles per hour in a few seconds.

Maybe that's the problem. When you're actually moving through the air at top speed, you can't tell it. It just feels like you're dangling in space -- dangling and ready to plummet.

It's a feeling that makes my face freeze. My husband said my expression was so strange the last time we flew he hardly recognized me.

I can't imagine what I'd look like if I had to get on a plane tomorrow. Not that I plan to.

For now, and as far into the future as circumstances allow, I won't be. And, like Brockovich, I won't be apologizing for it.

Regional Editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com

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