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Five years after plane tragedy, Truman publishes her story

Jennifer Truman relaxes in her garden with her newly published book. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
September 02, 2009
The events of Aug. 16, 2004 will forever stay with Jennifer Truman. Almost exactly five years after landing a plane at Laconia Airport in an attempt to save her parents' lives, Truman has published a book about the tragic event.

On that fateful day, Truman had no choice but to land the single-engine Piper Malibu after the pilot, her father, appeared to have a stroke, and then her mother, the only other passenger, suffered a stroke as well. Neither Truman's mother or father ever recovered from the incident, and they passed away within a day of each other.

Truman said her only objective while in the air that day was to land the plane safely and get help for her parents. She had only 30 hours of flying lessons under her belt, and no pilot license. With the help of Ken Hoff from Air Traffic Control, who talked her down over the radio, Truman managed to land the plane safely, with one or two thuds, she said.

Truman's nonfiction book, "9132 Victor: Three Got Into a Plane, Only I Walked Away" is a tribute to her parents, the two people Truman considered to be her best friends. The Gilford resident said she had this personal story bottled up for years, and she finally had to share it from moment to moment with loved ones.

"I lived a very mundane life to that point. I had nothing newsworthy," she said. "The book is a tribute to two phenomenal people. Their friends still come up to me and tell me how much they miss them. Five years later, they are still thinking of these two dynamic people."

The book is about not only her experience, but her parents' strong love for one another.

After reading countless articles on the incident and recollecting national television programs such as "Good Morning America," Truman knew she had a newsworthy story, but not the kind she'd ever wished for.

"I remember sitting by the TV and watching Diane Sawyer say on 'Good Morning America' that this was something out of a movie. It was a different feeling. Statistically, it will never happen again," said Truman.

Although Truman said she did not feel ready at the time to write a book on her parents and her experience, she thought about the idea occasionally and searched for more information, including the actual tape that recorded the entire incident on the plane.

"I knew they (the media) were getting the information from somewhere. I sat on the tapes for a while before I could listen to them, and I had some clippings from newspapers," said Truman, who grieved over the tapes the first time she brought herself to play them.

When she was flying the plane, Truman recalled thinking that she had everything under control, yet she could hear the panic rise in her voice on the tapes after her father became unresponsive. She said her voice became even more panicked as her mother came forward to help, then became unresponsive as well.

"At the time, I didn't think I was panicked, but when I talked into the mic my voice started to raise because I wanted help for my parents. I got really concerned when something was wrong with my mom. I lost the other person that was helping me," she said. "I was transferred to Ken Hoff. He had been an instructor and calmed me down and assessed my flying skills to make sure I could follow directions. He wanted me to practice but I wanted to get the plane down as soon as possible."

She didn't realize it at the time, but Lily Pond Road was closed in order to ensure Truman made a safe landing and didn't knock out any cars. Truman admitted her forte was not landing planes, and the plane she had to land was not the plane she had practiced on for a mere 30 hours.

"They were completely different planes. It's like I went from driving a Volvo to driving a Ferrari. A plane is a plane and a car is a car but it depends on how you land and what speed," said Truman.

However, Truman landed right back at Laconia Airport where she had taken lessons before and was met by ambulances and fire trucks. Truman said she had a dozen concerns racing through her head, yet her biggest was the safety of her parents.

"The doors were on the back of the plane, not on the side and I wanted to make sure the firefighters and ambulances knew. I wanted to get help for my parents, and quick. I had no idea what I must have looked like," said Truman.

Diana Truman passed away in a nursing home on Aug. 21, and William Truman passed away in the nursing home a day later, hours apart from his wife and one day away from their 40th anniversary, which would have been Aug. 23.

"I mostly wrote the book for my parents, friends, and family. I don't ever expect to be a huge commercial success. I did it for the people in my life. It's a love story about two people who met in college. They died together for a reason," said Truman.

Truman said she found writing the book to be a difficult and emotional four-year experience. Truman would play a part of the tape, then add her own perspective to the incident, play the tape again, and type a little more.

"I added in my own thoughts. It's my perspective on the story and the words that I use," she said. "The tape was quite difficult to get through at times."

Although Truman wrote and published the book herself, through the company Print On Demand, she said she would not call herself a writer or consider writing another story anytime in the near future.

"It was not actually the writing that was healing," she said. "It's the closure that this story has been here for all these years, and has been told for better or for worse. I finally stepped away from the keyboard and I said, 'that's it, I'm done.'"

Truman's book came out on Aug. 16 and can be ordered through Booklocker or Amazon.

Martin Lord Osman
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