The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a journalist was report the plane crash on Sunday, July 16, that claimed the life of Atchison resident Bethany Root.
When I got word late that morning that there had been a plane crash in the county, I huffed a bit. I had plans that afternoon but was also the person on call for the Globe. I hoped the word “crash” that came in the text message I received was hyperbolic, that the incident was less “crash” and more “fender bender.”
I ignored that text for a few minutes but my sense of duty as a reporter quickly gnawed through my frustration and I replied.
“Did it happen this morning,” I asked.
“A couple of hours ago” the sender replied.
Then came a phone call from a co-worker who had more details. It’s not uncommon for a call to cut in and out in a rural-ish town like Atchison, but I was able to make out phrases like, “they died” and “cute blonde at the airport” and “Amelia Earhart Festival” — all details that would later reveal themselves. I hung up the phone.
I knew then that the crash was serious and warranted immediate-enough attention that I nearly hopped into my car and headed for the Cummings area in general, without a clue as to where the plane actually went down.
Experience interjected just as I was reaching for my keys. “Call and confirm this with someone,” it said, so I called Emergency Management Director Wes Lanter.
Lanter confirmed the crash. He confirmed the fatalities, too, though not the names, and, because it had been communicated over the scanner, provided me an address on Ness Road.
From there, my day played out on a perpetual delay. I was present in the moments that presented themselves to me – in the car on the road, pulling up to the address, introducing myself to authorities, people hugging, people crying, a mess of scrap on a hill — but processing each moment in a kind of immediate retrospect.
There’s that funny reality about small-town life that you always see people you know, wherever you go. Sadly, I learned the Sunday after the Amelia Earhart Festival this year that that truth can extend past casual encounters and into my work.
Because I considered Bethany Root a friend, because I knew her personally, reporting that story has been the most challenging task in my career. On one hand, I was at the crash site that day to gather facts and piece together a story about a plane crash. On the other hand, I was forced to comprehend and cope with a loss with the gruesome reality of the situation staring me in the face and a hot sun beating down from above.
If you didn’t know Bethany, you should know that the community of Atchison is at a loss without her.
She was a fun-loving person inside and out, passionate as all hell about aviation and just a lot of fun to be around.
Her passion for flying was the most undeniable thing about her, even over her kind and confident smile. I regret never taking her up on her offers to fly me around Atchison in a plane. She wasn’t worried about things like I am.
She and the folks at McElwain Sprayers were — and are — doing great things for the Amelia Earhart Airport. They had done so much, and yet had only just begun to sow the seeds of a new generation of aviation enthusiasts and pilots in Atchison, when Bethany passed.
I hope that their work continues in earnest in honor of Bethany Root, may she rest in peace.