Monthly Archives: January 2023

Wager With the Wind

What Just Happened!?

Well, the time has come. I’ve dreaded this moment for some reason. It’s not hard to tell what happened, as best I understand it. That’s straightforward and easy. It’s because I don’t want to relive the feeling of what we lost.

My wife and I took a 3-mile walk this morning around our frozen neighborhood in the 19° (which felt like 10°), frozen-world, winter, wonderland covered with 2-3 inches of sleet from the previous 24 hours. The silence and solitude were beautiful, as were our brief conversations and prayers. I couldn’t help but look at the hard, sleet-covered surface of the road and think, “I could have landed the Maule on surfaces like that easily, as I have several times. Hard-packed ice and snow isn’t a problem. But soft, wet, dense snow is.

Here’s What Happened

Let me tell you what happened, and then we can discuss lessons learned or what I would do differently if I got a do-over, which in this case, I don’t.

January 26, 2023, in the early morning we flew from Springdale, AR, where we live much of the time and keep our airplane hangared to Hot Springs, AR, to visit my wife’s sister, who has some health challenges. It was a pristine, clear, blue-skies day, and we made the smooth flight in a record 45 minutes due to a substantial tailwind out of the NW. The snow-covered mountains of the Ozarks and Ouachitas were breathtaking, and flying seemed surreal, which it often does.

A Year Ago on the Mountain

After our visit, we filled up with fuel due to the expected weekend flying and headed north to our mountain-top strip, John Harris Field, or AR05, on the aeronautical charts. We flew lower northbound to mitigate the effects of the NW headwind. At 3500′, I slowed the plane and configured it to land to the north. The skies were clear blue, and the north/south runway looked beautiful in the snow. I noted it was 1210 PM. The winds at 2500′ on down to the 1777′ landing zone elevation were out of the NW (310° and steady at 10-15 knots, I estimated from the 3000′ winds aloft at RUE and what I was feeling from the airplane). I held my normal 60 MPH final approach speed steady until it was time to flare. Once we glided near the runway surface, past the windsock at the approach end, and between the pine trees which line the runway, there was practically no wind or drift to correct. Before entering the snow, I held it off in the flare to dissipate as much airspeed as possible.

When I let it settle into the snow, it seemed like our deceleration rate was typical for the landing phase. But it then decelerated faster than I could imagine. The tail came up very quickly, and before I knew it, it was straight up in the air, and then the momentum of the plane carried it on over in a somewhat slow tumble onto its back. 

I would say from the “fairly normal deceleration” assessment until the tail was up vertical only took 2-3 seconds — unbelievably fast, even when I think about it now as I type. I didn’t get the time compression that sometimes accompanies these sudden events. It still seems like a blur. I had my hand on the throttle to add power if needed. If they happen, I’d read that soft snow-related incidents happen at very slow speeds at the end of the landing roll when not much air is going over the tail to hold it down. But nothing I read, thought, or heard about prepared me for this rapid deceleration. It was as if at 15-20 MPH, some gremlins threw chocks in front of the main wheels.

The only thoughts I had, at the time the tail was about 30° up in the air and moving rapidly, were: “I can’t make myself push the power up looking down at the ground at this slow speed, with no real threats around” and, when the prop hit the ground one second later, “This is going to be expensive.”

The next thing I know, my wife and I are hanging upside down in our seat belts. We release them and crawl out of the airplane onto the bottom of the pilot’s side wing. While she released her belt, I turned the master switch off, the ignition switch off, and the fuel selector to off. Then we walked away quickly in shock that it had happened. But we were unharmed and grateful.

The End.

To Stop or Not to Stop, That is the Question

Hundreds experiences work for you when flying in the backcountry from thousands of hours flying fighters and airliners. Then there are a few things that might work against you.

One such thing is the throttle. For many repetitions and landings, when I pulled the throttle to idle, it wasn’t going to be pushed back up. In the backcountry with lighter aircraft, sometimes you need to do so to get air over the control surfaces to control the airplane and prevent mishaps. I have made substantial progress in overcoming this big-muscle memory and demonstrated it at times. But this event happened too fast to react like that.

Secondly, you spend most of your career thinking snow is slick and the primary threat it presents is getting stopped from the momentum of heavy airplanes landing at high speeds. One never suspects it could be an agent for causing you to stop too quickly.

I will continue to mull this over and try to think of what I might have done differently and hear from fellow pilots their thoughts. An F-16 buddy called yesterday and after hearing my story said, “Yeah, but this is different. The snow got hold of you and flipped you over.” That isn’t a bad summary of what happened.

An older pilot friend with lots of experience told me, “CG (center of gravity) might have had some effect on you. When you fly airplanes like the Maule or a Cherokee Six that carry about anything you put in them and feel about the same when landing, one can get a little lax in thinking about it.” That’s possible for sure. If I had remotely anticipated anything like this, I would have extra bags or weight in the back to slow or help prevent the tail from coming up. And I might have landed with a bit of power on until it stopped in its tracks — very counterintuitive though. If I had dreamed it could be a problem, I wouldn’t have landed at all. All of this is hindsight and speculation. But you can’t help but try to problem-solve or be a better pilot, even when you’re still grieving the loss of something.

I wish I had had Don Sheldon to ask about the landing before I attempted it.


I would love to have lived in the heyday of the Alaska bush pilots, my father’s generation, just after WWII. If you want to get a feel for what that was like, as much as we can, read Wager With the Wind by James Greiner. When four friends flew our two Maules to Alaska in 2017, we landed on downtown Talkeetna’s legendary Don Sheldon’s grass strip. Back then, a similar accident would be addressed by friends trying to get you back in the air as soon as possible, with no reports, insurance companies, and massive paperwork to complete. It was more about adventure, courage, camaraderie, and survival together. 

I told the gentleman who called from the Denver office of the NTSB, who was very kind and compassionate, “That’s quite a form. I’m seventy. I don’t know if I have enough time left to fill that out.” I’m just kidding, of course (sort of). I’m not cursing the darkness or calling the NTSB, FAA, or insurance companies bad guys. They are a part of why we have the safest general aviation flying in the world, offering as much freedom to US citizens as we have. And the insurance guy was as kind, sympathetic, and helpful as the NTSB representative. 

I’m grateful for the aviation experience, and we’ll see where this interruption leads us. It has been a magnificent flight in life. Thanks for listening to my story and to you who have reached out, checking on us, and wishing us the best — most hoping we fly again. Godspeed to you on your journey, and His shalom be yours in abundance.

Snowy Crash

From my journal January 27, 2023: 0245L, I awakened thirsty and sad, so I decided to get up and sit by the fire with my journal in hand. I then recorded the following:

The backcountry flying and flying-freedom part of our lives may be over.

I wrecked the airplane yesterday, landing in wet snow — something I didn’t see coming and can hardly believe happened.

Neither Elizabeth nor I was hurt, and that’s the main thing.

We have much to be thankful for. It’s insured, and we’ll probably break even on our investment, so to speak.

But something treasured is gone — something that brought joy to our lives, beauty, seeing the Earth often from above and visiting inaccessible places.

It’s about the loss of that ability and freedom. It’s about the death of a vision and the change that it brings.

Something that brought joy, beauty, and adventure to life is gone, with no clear path to getting it back.

I know it shouldn’t be, but it feels almost like a death in the family — something to be mourned. Our daughter was very sympathetic and kind when we talked to the kids last night. She kept saying, “It’s OK to mourn the loss — we all feel it.”

It’s not about the metal, although I can’t help but feel I’ve lost an old, trusted friend. It’s taken me to Alaska, Idaho, Honduras, and untold places in the Ozarks and around the USA with friends. It’s been faithful, trustworthy, strong, and true.

It’s about a way of life that’s gone and likely not coming back.

That’s the way I feel lately about America and the church. Only the grace of God can bring good out of this, and it may take a crash to experience what we’ve lost. Why wouldn’t my heart be sad?

My hope and trust are in the Lord. That I can say with hope and honesty.
Even now, the reality of His nearness brings warmth and joy to my soul.

I’ll put more wood on the fire and read from the Psalms. I’ll await more of Your thoughts and any truth You would share. Thank you, Lord.

The YouVersion verse of the day may apply to the loss and life in the USA in the future: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [to be overly sad, hopeless, have a bad attitude, be negative or worry] will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

It’s 3:48 in the morning, and I just sent that verse to a friend with this message: “I had an airplane crash yesterday. We are OK. Are you OK?” Then I prayed for him. I think self-pity is behind many of our troubles, and I didn’t have that revelation until recently.

As far as the crash goes, I think I heard, “Don’t make more of it than you should or less of it than you should.”

Then I heard a twist on an old saying, “You can take the dog out of the fight, but you can’t take the fight out of the dog.”

Don’t be ashamed that you’re a man and adventurer who enjoyed exploring every corner of the airplane’s capabilities. Yes, what you don’t know or see can hurt you. But there is also “The Man in the Arena.” [A famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt]

Which is more important? To be totally safe — if there is such a thing? Or to be unafraid of taking a measured risk?

What brings you joy and satisfaction? What portals have opened the vastest horizons for you or led out onto the highest peaks and broadest plains?

I think I hear, “Don’t quit being a man” in all this. Take the hit to your pride; that’s a good thing. Honor and tell the truth, then get up and get going again.

I don’t disregard safety. No rational pilot does. But I don’t worship it, either.

We all learn from our mistakes; what doesn’t kill you should make you stronger — unless you cower in fear. Then you’re in for a slow death — by degrees.

I’m not happy this object lesson came my way. I’m very sad about it. It hurts a lot for the reasons I have journaled in the early morning.

But there is a flying saying as old as it is true, “Any landing you walk away from is a good one.” So I made a good landing on top of the snow-covered mountain yesterday. I got the Jeep from the hangar and drove a short distance to a warm, beautiful cabin to spend the night with my best friend, my lovely wife. Life is good — even with a few bumps, falls, and stings.

Just before sunset, a friend on the other side of the mountain called to say hello, unaware of the accident. He offered and came with his four-wheel-drive tractor and front-end loader. We flipped the plane back over, then towed it to the hangar for the night. It didn’t change things. But it made my heart feel better to see her in a dry hanger on her feet instead of on her back in the snow.

After writing what I heard and thought in the beautiful stillness of the early morning, I feel better. Circumstances haven’t changed. But the Spirit has warmed my heart, let it cry, and pointed me again toward courage, endurance, and soaring in life. Thank you, holy Father. You are Jehovah Shalom, my Lord, and my God.



To those of you I’ve promised an airplane ride, let me say I’m truly sorry. You know I meant it. I’ve never refused a free flight to anyone who asked. I’ve given scores of flights and enjoyed each one immensely watching others experience the wonder and beauty of flight. Don’t give up hope, we’ll see what happens.

This speaks to the emotional, spiritual situation surrounding the accident, and where our hearts are. In the coming days, for my pilot friends and those interested I’ll speak to what happened and how it happened, as best I understand it, in more detail to add to our corporate body of knowledge and experience. A quick summary might be: Wet, dense snow will stop you a lot faster than you can imagine, and if you must try it, have an aft CG (some or a lot of weight in the rear of the plane.)

Puzzling 2020

Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” The pandemic and explosion of events beginning in 2020 certainly did that to Americans and the world. As busy lives slowed to a crawl, isolated people worked thousands of puzzles, and people got outside, slowing to the pace of living and to being human. This book of 70 short chapters or puzzle pieces makes sense of what we experienced from a perspective of spiritual, historical, and current events. It also provides inspiration and insight to live hopeful, meaningful, courageous lives. Enjoy!

Many things were stripped away from our lives as we pondered how to stay healthy. Some reacted in fear, and some in faith. It caused everyone to reexamine who they trusted for valid information about safety, health, and hope for the future. Puzzling these events, even after two years, a resolution is still inconclusive. This book seeks to answer some basic questions: “Where are we? How did we get here? Where do we go from here, or how do we live in these puzzling times?” We look to the Bible, history, and God for insight and truth  — and for grace to live with purpose and without fear. These puzzle pieces will help you “Light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.” Click here to order.

Dwayne Bell holds degrees in mathematics and theology, and was a school teacher before pursuing a career in aviation. He served in the United States Air Force and reserves for twenty years flying F-16 fighter aircraft while concurrently concluding a twenty-five-year career as an airline pilot, flying Boeing 777s to Europe and Asia. He retired early to begin a new chapter of kingdom life and adventures. He enjoys back country flying, writing, photography, and biking. He and Elizabeth, his wife of forty-seven years, make their home in Springdale, Arkansas. You can reach Dwayne at: