“.......WHO KNEW MY MOM?”

by: Mike Larson

    This Cessna 195 Web-site is one of the most valuable assets a Cessna 195 owner has to learn about maintaining, flying, or just enjoying his airplane.  There are millions upon millions of Web-sites available about almost any subject and I keep up with only a few that I am really interested in ( The 195 site is naturally at the top of my list, 4 or 5 times a day usually!).  It was quite a surprise when an old skydiving friend from the 1970’s sent me an e-mail about a post on one of the many skydiving sites he visits (  The post was from a 30 year old woman. It read as follows:

Seeking skydivers who knew my mom

My mom Carolyn Reynolds was killed skydiving on March 27, 1970 in Jefferson County, Colorado.  She was 28 years old.  She was with friends/skydivers Charmian Cliff, Joseph G. Turner, Michael McCosh.  I was only 3 years old at the time.  I have never known any of her friends from that time, what happened that day and what she was like as a person.  If you can help me learn anything about her or that day please contact me at MikiHodge@her e-mail.


    The post alone is enough to bring tears to your eyes, Miki was looking for any information about the mother she didn’t  remember.  Charmian Cliff is my wife’s maiden name and not only was she jumping with Carolyn Reynolds that afternoon but she also worked for her.  Charmian had temporarily accepted the job of nanny for Carolyn’s three daughters and her husbands two children while they made arrangements for a permanent caretaker.  I remember the afternoon very well, I was flying the Cessna 180 and though I had been flying parachute jumpers for 4 years, this was the first time I had flown someone who lost their life. 

    I gave the information to Charmian and she immediately emailed Miki with her cell phone number.  When Miki called, they talked for over an hour.  Miki, her husband, Willie,  and her 5 year old son, Cooper, live in Salida, Colo. just west of Pueblo and Charmian and I vowed that we would fly up to Salida to see her the next time we flew the Cessna 195 to Colorado.  We found that she and her 2 sisters had been raised by her grandfather and grandmother in Aurora, Colo. after Carolyn died.  Once they were 18 years old, grandfather told them they would have to fend for themselves from then on.  He still lovingly guided them along their way but essentially they were on their own.  Miki managed to find a job and worked her way through college, received her degree, and now had a good job in Denver that allowed her to live in Salida.

    That phone call took place in March, 2010 and we were in the middle of negotiating the sale of our hangar/residence in Texas and trying to relocate to a suitable place in Denver.  We didn’t find the opportunity to meet Miki until we completed our relocation.  In August, right after Oshkosh, we called Miki but she was not going to be home the next week-end.  Undeterred,  Charmian kept trying to find a free moment when we could meet Miki and her family and tell her what we could of her mother, Carolyn.

     Friday afternoon, 13 August, 2010 everything seemed to come together and we pulled the 195 out of the hangar for a 9 AM departure.  Miki wasn’t going to get off work until 2 PM, it was only a 55 minute flight over the mountains southwest of Denver but I try to leave fairly early when heading West.  There was 55 gallons of fuel in the tanks so I wasn’t worried about performance and I estimated it would be enough to fly the round trip and take the family for a short sight seeing ride if they elected to do so.

    The flight was nothing short of glorious.  Colorado in August is usually beautiful and this Friday morning lived up to it’s reputation.  The air was smooth and the mountains magnificent. The Salida airport was virtually deserted when we arrived but finally another pilot walked around the hangar and was drawn to our highly polished 195 like a magnet.  We asked about transportation into town and he directed us to the empty FBO where a sign in sheet needed to be filled out and we were welcome to any of the 3 courtesy cars in the parking lot. 

    We picked the best looking car and drove to town.  It ran fine and the obligatory yellow “check engine” light glowed steadily in the panel.  Have you ever driven an airport courtesy car without the “check engine” light being on?  I haven’t.

    Salida isn’t a large town but we found a nice place for lunch then drove into the old town and parked along the Arkansas River. We walked around for an hour  or so until Miki called and said she would meet us in the park.

    I started to notice a few butterflies flying around in my stomach about then, maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought.  In about 15 minutes Miki and Willie walked up and welcomed us to Salida.  We found a nice tavern across the street and while Willie and Miki drank a beer I nursed a diet coke in case I got to go flying again and we proceeded to try to get to know each other a little. 

    It turned out to be a delightful afternoon.  Charmian and Miki were instantly bonded together in conversation about Miki’s mother.  Willie and I talked about his welding business and his passion with rafting along the Arkansas River.  We finished up at the bar and drove to their house to meet 5 year old son Cooper who was just out of school for the day.  He was a delightful young man who seemed well suited in the family that absolutely adored him.

    Miki and Willie showed us their river raft and suggested we drag it down to the river and go for a ride.  It took an hour to position the cars and get the raft into the river and we enjoyed the warm summer afternoon on the Arkansas River.

    It was about 2 hours until sundown when we finished storing the raft back at the house and Miki expressed an interest in flying in the plane.  We all loaded back into our cars and headed for the airport.  The winds were still up a little but not enough to be really rough around the mountains. I pre-flighted the 195 and began the briefing with my three passengers, Charmian would stay on the airport so the backseat would be more comfortable for Willie and Cooper.

    I flew down the Arkansas River, retracing our raft trip earlier in the afternoon, then back over Salida and marveled at the mountains surrounding the countryside.  Cooper was antsy in the backseat. He had long ago unbuckled his seatbelt and he was alternating between the left and right windows trying to take in the sights.  I invited him to walk up between the seats and sit on Miki’s lap so he could see ahead a little better.  As soon as he sat down his little hands reached for the the control wheel, Miki quickly snatched them up and  off and looked at me apologetically.  I laughed and told her it would be alright for him to handle the controls.  I don’t think she believed me but she did turn loose of his hands and he grabbed the control wheel again.

    Cooper moved the wheel gently left to see what would happen while I pressed the left rudder to help bank the airplane.  When he realized he was controlling the airplane his eyes lit up and a big smile spread across his face.  He wasted no time increasing the bank then leveling out while contemplating what he had just done and what to do next.  It didn’t take long.  He very firmly rolled the airplane back and forth and I followed up with the rudder and watched him break out into another delighted smile. I let him roll back and forth for a few minutes
then sort of nudged the nose down to gain some speed and pitched up into a gentle wingover to the left.  He wasn’t so sure about the wingover at first and glanced back and forth nerviously, he almost immediately started laughing and giggling with delight as the ground came back into view on the left side.

Link to youtube video of Cooper flying:

    I think he would have continued banking back and forth for an hour if we would have let him but I began to notice signs of distress from Miki and I thought she probably had experienced enough of flying for this evening.  We asked Cooper to go back to his seat and put on his seatbelt for the landing.  After securing the airplane for the night we headed to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner.

    We met back at Miki’s house and as I walked past little Cooper’s room I noticed he was finishing up his macaroni & cheese.  When he saw me he immediately dumped his food on the floor, jumped up, and ran to me.  He grabbed my left hand and each of his little hands wrapped tightly around two of my fingers and dragged me to the far wall of his room.  He then released one hand, still holding me with the other, and with a loud crash, pulled a box full of toys off of the shelf.  The toys scattered across the floor and when I looked down I realized this was his box of airplanes.  He then pulled me down so I would sit with him and patiently picked up each airplane, one at a time, and showed it to me, he would smile and exclaim, “SEE this one?”  I would acknowledge each airplane and tell him what it was and I could see he already knew what they were and he would agree with me with a broad smile.  Now I knew there was a cold beer waiting for me in the kitchen but that could wait, I didn’t want to miss a single minute with this delightful child and he continued showing me his treasures until they all were identified and returned to their box.

    Soon enough I got to my beer and after finishing it we left the house and walked to the restaurant in town and sat down for a memorable dinner with Miki and her family.  I wish I could have been privy to the quiet conversation between Charmian and Miki that afternoon and during dinner. Miki did eventually turn to me and asked what I knew about her mother.  I told her that I had just gotten out of the Air Force a couple of months before the accident and didn’t know her well.  She then asked what was her mood before getting on the airplane for that fateful jump.  I told her I did recall she was smiling broadly when she boarded the airplane, like most skydivers, and was kidding and laughing with Charmian and the other two skydivers jumping with her.  Miki seemed relieved for a moment, then she asked me, “So, do think she committed suicide on that jump?”  This took me back a little at first, I told her in no uncertain terms that her mother absolutely did not commit suicide that day, she had died accidentally.  The look of relief in Miki’s eyes told volumes as she related that her grandfather, who had raised her and her two sisters after Carolyn died, had often said that he wondered if his daughter caused her own death that day.  I reiterated that was not the case, for some unknown reason her mother was unable to deploy either of her two parachutes.  Suicides are virtually unheard of in skydiving, most skydivers are so full of life they rarely think of it and would do anything to avoid it.  Most would say: “I’m not really afraid to die, I am afraid of not living”.  Living life to it’s fullest is what most skydivers are doing, generally speaking they do not have a death wish and even though they do take chances, they invariably are constantly evaluating the odds of having an accident against the thrill of putting their selves at risk, and doing everything possible to keep those odds in their favor.  I think Miki was able to put to rest one of the nagging questions she had been contemplating most of her life.

    The next day our flight back to Denver was as enjoyable as the day before and, as we pushed the old Cessna 195 back into the hangar we contemplated what we had just done.  Sure, the flight in our Cessna 195 was, as us
ual, very enjoyable, but the thought of being able to meet with Miki and maybe help her to understand a little more about her mother eclipsed the flying.  If we could help her come to terms with losing Carolyn so early in her life then we may have accomplished something of value, it certainly made the flight more important to us.  For me, the highlight was seeing little Cooper’s broad smile as we rolled back and forth in the 195 over Salida (SEE VIDEO).  Then, when he grabbed my hand and dragged me into his bedroom, despite my determination to continue into the kitchen for my beer, that is a memory I will cherish forever.

We vowed to keep in touch with Miki and her family and hope to have them over soon.  I can’t wait to take little Cooper up in the J-3. The Cessna 195 didn’t make this trip possible, but it made it a lot more memorable.  It has never been said  better than by Kent Blankenberg:

“In the sky our hearts beat faster when we admire the enduring loveliness of a particular airplane which for one reason or another achieves the status of a standard of perfection.  It is the quality of enduring value that defines something as a classic, rather than being a passing fancy.

The Cessna 195, Cessna’s “Business Liner” possesses these qualities.

Amen Brother