[Acts of God]

Mysterious Ways

Signs of divine intervention at the site of the North Las Vegas plane crash

Firefighters look for hot spots after a twin-engine Piper Navajo crashed into a home on North Jones Boulevard near Cheyenne Avenue on August 28.
Photo: Steve Marcus / Las Vegas Sun

This whole planes-falling-out-of-the-sky thing turns out to be about a benevolent God, you know. Driving toward the scene of the second airplane accident last week, I have the instinctive reaction to duck when a twin-engine buzzes in over me toward that airport, that airport—God! I look up and see a billboard with the Ten Commandments on it. I see the news helicopters, three, circling the crash site like buzzards, or angels, and I recall the tragedy in Phoenix last year when two news helicopters doing this very thing hit one another and plummeted to the ground. Later their colleagues flew over that scene, giving us the images: angry burned spots on the earth. Now I see the smoke rise and the sirens ahead, and the road to the site, Jones north of Smoke Ranch, is closed. I get out of the car and join the media circling on the ground. People circle when things go wrong.


Beyond the Weekly
Pilot dies after plane crashes in Las Vegas neighborhood (Las Vegas Sun, (8/28/08)
Report on fatal plane crash expected in a week (Las Vegas Sun, (8/22/08)

We interview Amy Brown, a woman whose house is two doors down from the accident site; she describes the 2:34 p.m. incident in apocalyptic terms: “It shook the foundation; it sounded like a tornado, like a tree being picked up from the ground ... I ran from the house and saw a big ball of fire. I could feel the heat; flames shot in the air, people were saying, ‘Run, run, run ...’”

The afternoon lasts forever, Vegas sun baking the kids who bicycle up to see, the neighbors who’ve come out to drop jaws, the media standing by as horror anthropologists and tour guides, and there is a hot banality to the whole thing, a shock followed by a familiarity, exacerbated by a similar crash six days ago on the other side of the airport. In fact the Review-Journal headline will say of today’s incident, “Another plane hits LV home.” Another. The universal thought is an absurd one: Planes—plural—are dropping out of the sky onto our homes.

Las Vegas plane crash

So we look for someone to blame. We will try to frame this as a North Las Vegas Airport problem. An FAA problem. A growth-of-the-city and poor-neighborhood-zoning problem. An airplane-manufacturer problem? Something. Frustratingly, it doesn’t seem likely that there is a single institutional culprit. Rather, it’s some ridiculous bit of fate. Random crashes.

And that’s where the God stuff washes all over this story. I interview the woman whose home is directly behind the one hit and destroyed on Jones; hers would have been next to explode in the twin-engine Piper Navajo’s path had it kept going. She opens her front door, and behind her, nearly as large as she is, is a crucifix, along with a statue of Christ, and a Virgin Mary, and fresh flowers she places every week as an offering to the Lord. She takes me to the backyard, less than 40 feet from the charred remains of the Piper, to show me another 2-foot Virgin Mary statue.

She explains why the plane did not hit her house, why, in fact, she was this close, but saved. “This house has been blessed by holy water. I had a priest out here several years ago,” Rosario Fickes says. “God protects this house.”

Turns out God blessed the owners of the home that was destroyed, too. Although He dropped a plane on their house at 2:34 in the afternoon on a Thursday, the Castillos attribute their good luck in escaping to a blessing from God. They were about to have a Bible study that night that would have brought many more people into harm’s way. Thank God the plane fell when it fell, allowing the five members of the Castillo family who were home to run out, away from the inferno. Thank God. Only one dead, the pilot. Better than last week’s crash, which took the two elderly people who sat in their home unaware. Now, the back of their home is just a burnt spot, visible from Lake Mead as the flow of daily traffic sputters on by, drivers trying not to hit one another while looking.

I stand across the street from the Castillos’ home on Jones, the smell of fire still wafting long after flames have been doused. It’s odd, looking down the street, seeing a row of perfectly normal suburban homes housing all kinds of believers and nonbelievers, and then this one—a furious, horrid site of charred wood and stucco and twisted framework, the work of what seems like a bomb—and then it’s back to the row of quiet, fully intact homes. Why has God dropped a plane on these believers?

No one dares ask. I imagine what it would look like if we did: a circle of media angling cameras and mics up to the sky, asking questions, demanding answers. A litany of stories investigating whether this can be prevented in the future. Something about a history of reckless disregard. Someone will call for a resignation, surely.

Instead, we look sane by hustling around looking askance at authorities down here near the smoldering spots, and we rub our lucky idols and clasp our hands in prayer, and planes just drop out of the sky.

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