I got the telephone call all of us dread: My mother had just been hospitalized and wasn’t expected to live out the day. It came as I was in the middle of tackling some must-do, employment-related work from which I simply couldn’t walk away. By the time I finished, it was late in the day. The hospital was some 600 nm away, in a rural Southern town, albeit one with a well-equipped airport.
After a quick call to Flight Service to check weather and file IFR, I was out the door. Soon, I was airborne, southeast-bound and headed into a typical summer evening, with pop-up thunderstorms in all quadrants. By the time I started letting down, my cockpit-mounted Nexrad display was painting a red splotch just beyond my destination. The controller suddenly was very busy rerouting traffic around the building storm while offering anything I wanted for a new destination.
Soon, I figured out the storm and I were going to arrive at the airport simultaneously. I decided to divert and dialed the controller’s vector into the autopilot. When I finally was able to look up and outside, I realized I was over my mother’s home and within sight of the destination airport. Lightning flashed just beyond it, but it was VFR. Diverting meant at least another 1.5 hours before I could get to the hospital.
Against the controller’s protestations, I cancelled IFR, pulled off the power, dropped the gear and dove for the runway. It was a race: Would I get to the runway before the storm?
I won. I could see the storm’s roll clouds off the far end of the runway as I landed. Only two large raindrops fell on the airplane before I could secure it and head into town. I easily made it to the hospital, where I learned my mother’s condition was much better than I had been told.
I pushed it very hard that night, breaking just about every rule I had ever set for myself, and ignored the FAA’s strong recommendations against flying with a personal event like death on my mind. It worked out, but it was a near thing, and easily could have gone the other way.