Richard Bach, recovering from plane crash, returns to inspirational tale

By Claire Lee
  • Published : Jan 31, 2013 - 20:02
  • Updated : Jan 31, 2013 - 20:02
Nearly five months after he almost died in a plane crash on San Juan Island, author Richard Bach has returned to what he knows best ― the inspirational tale of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

The 76-year-old author and longtime pilot is recovering at his Orcas Island home after spending four months in a Seattle hospital with massive brain, chest and spine injuries. Bach says his recovery includes rediscovering simple pleasures, like walking and talking with ease and carving the Christmas turkey.

He credits ex-wife Sabryna Bach with helping ease the difficult time. It was her support, coupled with his brush with death, that prompted Bach to get back to the famous novella that made him one of the world’s most famous authors more than 40 years ago.

Published in 1970, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” told, in three parts, the story of a seagull who refused to conform and longed for a life beyond that of his flock. The book was an international best-seller that inspired legions of fans and a film with a soundtrack by Neil Diamond.

“When it was written there were four parts of the book,” said Bach, explaining the never-completed fourth part.
Author Richard Bach, best known for “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” calls flying a metaphor for life. (MCT)

But Bach recently finished the fourth section of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” and mailed it off to his publisher a few weeks ago. Bach’s family says he had written the fourth section when he completed the book, but what he went through inspired him to go through a final edit, make some changes and send it off to his publisher.

In the new section, the flock struggles to find meaning. They first worship Jonathan, then, as the years pass, he’s written off as a myth. But, eventually, a message of hope comes through when Jonathan returns.

“He’s just there to make things a little more at ease ... like Sabryna,” Bach said.

Sabryna Bach, 42, shies away from any attention. She says Bach’s work on the book has given him the confidence to get his recovery completely on track.

“He saw that his intellect was untouched (by the crash),” she said. “After that he did a 180.”

On Aug. 31, Bach was piloting a single-engine Easton SeaRey amphibian plane to visit a friend when the aircraft clipped power lines about three miles west of Friday Harbor Airport and flipped. Medics were at the crash site within minutes and an Airlift Northwest helicopter whisked Bach away to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the crash.

Bach remained in a coma for more than a week, according to Harborview physicians and his family.

Brain injuries affected his ability to walk, speak and perform the most basic of tasks. Until last month, Bach lived between the hospital and a nearby recovery center. By his side the entire time was Sabryna.

Bach attributes his survival to Airlift Northwest, the medical-transport service that flew him to Harborview.

Dr. Ron Maier, surgeon-in-chief at Harborview, agrees. He said had it not been for Airlift Northwest, Bach would not have made it to the hospital’s trauma center within a critical time period.

“A traditional concept has become established in trauma: It’s called the golden hour. It just emphasizes the quicker the people (with brain injures) get to definitive care they have a better chance of surviving,” Maier said.

Bach is so grateful that he helped establish a fund, called “Gift of Wings,” to help Harborview and Airlift Northwest.

By Jennifer Sullivan

(The Seattle Times)

(MCT Information Services)