The man who fell to earth and what it tells us about the true meaning of life
Published 22/02/2013 | 17:00
LOOK: I understand nothing about the origins of life – but maybe the experience of George Smith helps cast some light on it. Just 58 years ago this coming Tuesday, Smith, a US test pilot, decided to spend his Saturday morning dropping some clothes off at the laundry.
He then popped into the offices of his employer, North American Aviation, to clear some paperwork. A mechanic there told him that an F-100 aircraft, number 659, was just off the production line, and needed a test-flight: would he care to do it? At around the same time, Los Angeles businessman Art Berkell was thinking about abandoning a futile morning's fishing off Laguna Beach. The day had been cold and wet, and he and his two companions, his lawyer Mel Simon and the latter's 15-year old son Robert had caught nothing. They discussed returning, but decided to stay on a little bit longer, just in case. . .
Meanwhile, not bothering to put on his flying-gear or boots, but just donning a life-jacket over his sports-shirt and slacks, George scrambled into the supersonic F-100 and took off. At 35,000ft he levelled off and began to fly at around 800mph. Suddenly, the nose of the F-100 Super Sabre pointed right downward, and the plane began to hurtle vertically towards the sea. He attempted to pull back on the control-stick: nothing. A fellow F-100 pilot nearby saw his predicament and urged him to bail out.