Vic Savelli – FamilyRancher.com
If you told me when I was a college student in Pennsylvania decades ago that there would be a day in the future where I would receive a phone call from a small Texas airport to report that my cow had been killed in an airplane crash, I don’t think I would have believed it possible. How could it be that I would end up in Texas, own a cow and why on earth would my cow be on an airplane in the first place? WELL IT HAPPENED and I actually DID receive that call; however the circumstances were a bit different than what you may think.
Still searching for the right solution I called the original rancher that had leased the property and asked him if he knew any individuals that may be interested in cutting hay on the land or leasing it from my wife. His response was “If I were in your shoes I would run cattle on it”. He explained that “the pastures were tired” and that grazing cattle and adding their natural fertilizer to the soil would be an easy solution. He said that the cattle would even eliminate or tame some of the native weeds on the property that were edible to cows. As a lover of the outdoors and natural solutions, this sounded pretty good.
6 cows and a borrowed bull turned into 12 cows, 12 calves and a herd bull within 18 months. 2 years later we were at 26 cows… 2 years after that we kept our commercial cows and started a registered Black Hereford breeding operation. After keeping my weekend ranch life mostly quiet from my Dallas business associates, there was one weekend that a co-worker visited the ranch and took a look around. After looking at our cattle he looked at the cowboy hat I was wearing and said: “I’ll be damned if you don’t have the hat AND the cattle!”
Following a horrible 2 year drought that dried our pastures and cost us a fortune trucking in hay from across the USA, I leased additional property from my wife’s cousin to cut hay and seasonally graze my cattle. These pastures were adjacent to a small historic airport that was also owned by my wife’s cousin. To make a long story shorter, this very site is where my cow and aviation would meet.
I had just arrived at work and was enjoying the first coffee of the day when my phone rang and my wife’s cousin was on the line. He said, “Uhh Vic…there has been a plane crash at the airport and I’m afraid that one of your cows died in the crash.” I thought that surely this was a joke, but I quickly learned that he was totally serious. My first question was to inquire about the pilot and his or her condition. He said that the pilot was an older gentleman who had broken a leg and had a few cuts and bruises, but survived the crash. He went on to explain that the pilot had just purchased the airplane for about $15,000 a day or two earlier and was not an experienced pilot and had no business being up in the plane.
As the story goes, the pilot had been waiting for an instructor to arrive at the airport for his first lesson but got tired of waiting and decided to take the plane up for a spin. His experience from 20 + years ago apparently made him think he could fly it. Unfortunately, after getting in the air he had trouble landing. After two failed attempts to land the plane, on his third attempt he misjudged speed on touchdown and tried to take off again, this time losing lift and the plane spiraled downward. The plane stalled and fell to the left side of the runway clipping tree branches and falling onto one of my best mamma cows that was minding her own business and simply getting a drink of water from the pond. The plane fell on the cow, instantly killing her and then settled in about 3 feet of water. Her 2 month old calf was at her side, but was not injured. A local airplane mechanic heard the crash, called an ambulance and assisted the injured pilot.
For days I tried to catch her orphaned calf. He simply refused to get anywhere near me or my ranch hand. When we lured the other cattle to the corral with range cubes, he would not follow, spending his time alone in the woods. I couldn’t get within 50 yards of him without him running full speed in the opposite direction. The trauma took its toll. I held out hope that perhaps he would be adopted by another cow and would get milk from her. For a few weeks he seemed to be growing and would make it; however I found him lying down and approachable just a short time later. I took him to the vet but he was anemic and weak. We tried everything possible to save the calf. After running up quite a bill with no signs of improvement I took him back to the vet and the staff who knew his story and had been “cheering for the underdog” and they took him into their facility to try and save him. It was practically intensive care. The calf seemed to improve slowly, but ultimately he didn’t make it, dying about 10 days later. The vet speculated that it died from a blood clot that went to his heart from low mobility. We were all sad to have lost him.
I called the pilot to attempt to collect restitution for the damage and loss that his actions caused. After speaking with him I couldn’t help but feel bad for him. He had no insurance and he had lost his teeth and glasses in the crash. He had been hospitalized, was embarrassed, lost his plane, etc. He paid dearly for his poor judgment. He agreed to pay me a small amount of money for the loss as he was able and sent me a few $100 checks here and there before he moved on. I never pursued him further.
Some say that our cow helped to break the fall of the plane and may have helped the pilot survive the crash acting as a giant shock absorber. Even considering the poor judgment of the pilot, our cow gave up her life for good reason – she may have saved the man.
I occasionally see my cows looking up, something unusual for a cow to do. Perhaps they remember the day the giant metal bird fell from the sky?