“My Gutsy Story” by Tom Cirignano

(A Note from Sonia Marsh) I started my virtual blog tour on August 31st. I shall be interviewed by bloggers around the world during September and October. I hope you visit these creative bloggers as many are authors and experts in their fields.
Please hop over to:

Sonia’s 1st interview with author Susan Pohlman on Expat Chat 8-31-12

Sonia’s 2nd Interview with Shirley Showalter on 100 memoirs 9-3-12

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A Boston TV show, “New England Magazine,” featured a story about an ultralight aircraft that was easy to fly, and no pilot’s license was needed to fly it. Instantly, I knew I had to have one.

With instruction, I learned to fly the twin-engine, single-seat aircraft at the field where I purchased it.

The flight manual specified a minimum runway length of three hundred “unobstructed” feet; in other words, a football field. But, I was determined to find a way to fly it from somewhere close to home, where I wouldn’t have to dismantle and transport it.

Tom Cirignano with his ultralight

A Little League baseball diamond that was a few hundred feet from our home was nowhere near three hundred feet long in itself, but it bordered the waterfront where there was a drop-off to the ocean. I figured, “If I get the wheels off the ground before I reach the seawall, I will be just fine heading out over the open water.”

Coming in for a landing on that small field would be tricky, but I decided to worry about that later. I always felt that if I overanalyzed everything I wanted to do, I would eventually talk myself out of taking any chances in life. Besides, I was confident that I could pull this off.

That morning, my young bride slept in, deciding she wouldn’t watch what she considered an ill-advised take-off attempt. She actually used stronger words than that when I told her what I was planning to do. But nonetheless, she raised her head off the pillow and whispered, “Have a good flight.”

Quite a group of friends and neighbors gathered at the field to watch me launch the plane and render moral support. I started the two engines and strapped myself in with the seatbelt, shoulder harness, and put on my helmet. It was time to go for it. I gave both engines full throttle. My friends guided the wing until I got moving.

It was as if everything happened in slow motion. The engines roared loudly, and I was going faster and faster. The end of the field, and the ocean, were approaching, but I still was not in the air. But, I was mentally committed. I knew I could make it!

My friends were all yelling, “Shut it down! Shut it down!” They thought I wasn’t going to make it off the ground. I had dreamt about trying this for way too long. I wasn’t about to shut anything down.

Just feet from the edge of the seawall, the front wheel lifted off! I was airborne, and smiling! Gaining altitude, I glanced below me at the jagged rocks passing harmlessly under my butt. I felt I had safely achieved my goal as I reached twenty and then thirty feet of altitude.

Suddenly, a sick feeling set in. You know—the feeling that takes over your gut the moment you realize things are about to go downhill fast. As I got out over the cold seawater, I felt a sinking sensation, in more ways than one. I failed to consider a basic fundamental of flight. Air over warm fields rises, but air over cold ocean water falls, causing down-drafts.

Losing altitude, my heart sank with disappointment. There was nothing I could do. I realized it was hopeless. I was going to crash.

If I hit the water with those propellers spinning at thousands of RPM’s, they would shatter into pieces, possibly hurting or killing me. I shut down both engines just prior to hitting the water and took a really deep breath.

Because the heavy engines were mounted up high, behind my head, the aircraft instantly flipped upside down and sank like a rock to the bottom, coming to rest on the ocean floor. Hanging upside down, I was strapped into my shoulder harness and seatbelt, wearing my helmet. Under ten to twelve feet of ice cold water, I knew if I panicked while fumbling to undo all the clasps of my safety gear, I was a goner. Still holding my breath, I thought to myself, “Everything better go smoothly.”

While underwater and restrained, time stood still. I experienced an eerie feeling of total aloneness, much different from the euphoric, all alone feeling I had expected to enjoy while flying. In the darkness, I blindly searched for the release clasps and easily found them. It was something I had practiced, just in case the need ever arose. I undid my shoulder restraints first and then my seatbelt. All buckles and straps released without a problem and I swam away from my seat.

Attempting to surface, I found myself trapped under the fabric wing, so I dove back down and swam to the side until I could safely surface. That was a move I remembered from reading a section in my flight manual, titled, “In the event of a water landing.”

My friends began clapping when my helmet popped through the surface of the water. I was surprised to see everyone nice and dry on shore, just watching. Nobody was rushing to assist me.

Wearing a long face, I walked home by myself to get rope. At the house, I checked on my wife.  She raised her head off her pillow, saw me soaked from head to toe, and smiled. She simple stated, “How was your flight?” It was her way of saying, “I told you that was a stupid idea,” I returned her smile, saying, “I’ll fill you in after I get the plane out of the ocean.

Feeling quite downhearted back at the field, I dove in and tied the rope to the plane. My friends dragged it out of the bay. Once home, I flushed and washed everything out with fresh water. Then, just to be safe, I decided to ship both engines back to the factory and have them rebuilt with the “high performance upgrade” that I originally opted not to pay for. Those few extra horsepower would have kept me in the air.

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Tom Cirignano Bio:
Thomas M. Cirignano was born in Dorchester, Ma., in 1952. As a young man, he moved to South Boston to take over the family’s auto repair business. While living and working in Southie, Tom experienced, first-hand, the unbridled crime and violence related to Mobster Whitey Bulger’s reign of terror. During the years of “Forced Busing,” Tom lived directly across the street from South Boston High School and saw the resulting violence unfold right on his doorstep. He survived the stress and violence related to running a filling station in the heart of Southie during the oil embargo and gas shortages of the 1970s.
Thomas Cirignano studied journalism. He has been a contributing writer and served as an advisory member on the New Bedford Standard-Times Editorial Board. He is a certified scuba diver, ultralight aircraft pilot, has owned several motorcycles, and loves boating. 
Tom is the author of two books.
The Constant Outsider: Memoirs of a South Boston Mechanic, and
       67 Cents: Creation of a Killer.   Both titles are available in print, and on Amazon Kindle.

You can find his books on his website. Please join his Facebook page

Sonia Marsh Says: Tom, this truly shows the “Gutsy” side of a young man who just goes for it. Thankfully your mishap ended well, and your new bride had you back home, although it sounds like you tried again with more powerful engines.

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To submit your own, “My Gutsy Story” you can find all the information, and our sponsors on the “My Gutsy Story” contest page. (VIDEO) Submission guidelines here.

Comments (10)

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  1. Thank you Sonia, for posting my ultralight story. You are correct, I did try, and fail to fly this thing again. That story, and, I’m afraid to say, many other stories involving poor judgement are written about in my memoir. But here I am, alive and well. Neither ultralights, motorcycle crashes, car crashes, or guns pointed at my head, ready to fire, have been able to end this story I call my life. I hope a few people enjoy this story. Sincerely, Tom

  2. Sonia Marsh says:

    Tom,

    I had no idea your memoir covers all the adventures, or should I say near-death experiences you’ve had in your life.
    Are you still taking as many risks? Perhaps not as dangerous as before.

    • When people read “The Constant Outsider: Memoirs of a South Boston Mechanic,” they can’t believe so many near death experiences have all happened to just one person. Somebody “up there” is certainly watching over me, or I wouldn’t still be here. No, I’m not as wreckless as I was in my youth, but the urge is still there.If you are an “Amazon Prime” member you can borrow each of my books on Kindle, and read them for free. Or we could work out a professional swap of our works if you wish.

  3. Lady Fi says:

    What a great story – and you and your bride kept your cool!
    Lady Fi recently posted..Spider artMy Profile

  4. My bride is still keeping her cool after 28 years of putting up with me. Nice spider and web photos you took!

  5. I knew you weren’t going to die because you didn’t say anything about seeing your life flash before your eyes. This was a chilling story, nonetheless. Although I’m a competitive swimmer, I have a fear of being trapped underwater. (shudder!)
    Teresa Cleveland Wendel recently posted..The Underpinnings of a Female AthleteMy Profile

    • Dear Teresa, I share your fear. Drowning ranks right up there with falling from a high place as my worst nightmare of a way to die. No, it’s even worse than that. At least when you fall, it’s over quickly.Thanks for sharing that comment. Tom

  6. Tom, slowly but surely each month I try to read all the “gutsy” stories, and yours is an amazing one! I have great respect for the water, and I’ll have to admit I was in camp with your young bride’s thinking as your story began. However, as your persona began to unfold, I knew you were a man with a mission and not to be stopped. Truly thankful and glad you weren’t hurt; in fact, you didn’t even mentioned a bruised pride! 🙂 Good luck in the contest.
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