This June 11th will mark the 33rd anniversary of the event that forever changed my life, the death of my husband, Jeffrey Lindenberg in an on-duty helicopter crash in Griffith Park. While it is never an easy day to get past it, it will be a little less difficult this year due to a remarkable occurrence that happened within the past few weeks. Quite randomly one morning I was 'Googling' myself on the computer and what I came across was a letter written to me by the surviving pilot of the helicopter crash that took my husband's life. It was actually a chapter from a book, True Blue. I was in total shock.....I had no idea this letter existed. I started shaking. At the time of the accident I was relieved that Ron had survived but I never could bring myself to have any contact with him even though he had reached out to me several months afterward in a letter asking to see me. I am not sure why. Did I hold him responsible? Maybe. He was after all Jeff's partner and training pilot. Something prevented me from wanting to see him. In any event the years passed and to be honest I never thought much about Ron. I was dealing with a lot of grief and pain and was attempting to put my broken life back into some order and probably thought he was doing the same. Perhaps I reasoned at the time that our meeting then would be too painful for both of us.
After reading this beautiful letter I was so moved and decided I needed to contact him. I found out that he was living in Las Vegas with his wife, Kathy. Coincidentally (or as I like to think by Divine intervention) my entire family was going to be in Las Vegas the following weekend to celebrate my stepson's 40th birthday! I sent Ron a note asking if he'd like to meet and he quickly responded that "words could not express how happy he was to hear from me and that he had waited a very long time for this". We set up a meeting for the following weekend. It was a meeting filled with so many emotions for both of us. I know Ron had prayed and hoped for this moment for so many years and it brought such peace to me to know that I could offer him understanding and comfort. It was a memorable and beautiful meeting and it will stay with me ... and I am sure him as well for the rest of our lives.
Your Husband-My Partner Letter to Lesa By Ron Corbin from the book True Blue
Police Officer/Instructor Pilot Los Angeles PD, Retired 7 Years.
Prologue: On Friday, June 11, 1976 at 12:50 p.m., twenty-nine-year-old LAPD Instructor Pilot Ron Corbin and LAPD Student Pilot Jeffrey Lindenberg, officers with, respectively, five and seven years on the job, were airborne in their Bell 47G-5 helicopter over the Hollywood Hills above the Los Angeles Zoo, just east of the Griffith Observatory. They were practicing off-site pinnacle landings on the mountain top. Officer Lindenberg was at the controls on short final approach when the engine failed. Instructor Corbin was unable to recover and safely autorotate due to the low altitude and low airspeed at the time of the incident. He desperately tried to salvage the crash by stretching the approach glidepath to a pad at the top of the mountain, but came four inches short of a safe landing. The helicopter fell backward off the cliff and dropped 162 feet down a 70-degree incline of rocky and brush-strewn hillside. The mission had just begun, so the aircraft was full of fuel and exploded, leaving a trail of fire. Other members of the Air Unit, who reported it to the LAFD Helicopter Unit, observed the resulting smoke. One of the FD helicopters was dispatched, thinking it was nothing more than a brush fire. Arriving upon the scene, two hikers who had run to the site and had Corbin on the ground, waved the FD helicopter down for an emergency medevac. Officer Lindenberg was not visible to the rescue unit. Aftermath: Officer Corbin received burns on 70 percent of his body (62 percent Second -or third- degree) and was in the hospital for over two months. He was subjected to years of multiple reconstructive surgeries on his face, arms, legs and torso. Officer Jeffrey Lindenberg, age thirty, was killed in the wreck and consumed in the resulting fire, leaving a grieving young widow, Lesa, and a seven-month old daughter, Tina Michelle. The accident was ruled due to mechanical failure; there was nothing that either officer-pilot or student-could have done to change the tragic outcome. This accident happened more than twenty-five years ago. Ron Corbin still bears the physical scars of the accident but one wonders if he still thinks about his partner, Jeff, who lost his life on that hillside so long ago. Oh yes. The following letter is a dedication to all those who wear a badge and a uniform and who won’t ever forget…not September 11, not a tragedy on a mountaintop, not any fellow officer’s death, however it occurred. Cops may mourn privately but they don’t forget.
Dear Lesa, I’m fifty-five years old now, with another birthday approaching this June fifteenth. I don’t have to remind you that this is just four days after the anniversary of Jeff’s death. Even after all these years, I’m sure you and your daughter think of this every June, especially since it is so close to Father’s day. I want you to know that I, too, still can’t celebrate my birthday without thinking back on that fateful day in 1976 when you lost a husband, and I lost partner. Lesa, you know I would have been at the funeral had I not been in the hospital. Those first couple of weeks when I was in grave and critical condition are mostly a blur in my memory; as much probably from being sedated as to the extent of my injuries. Actually, before I became conscious to even be told that Jeff had been killed in the accident, the memorial services, the missing man formation fly-by, the playing of taps, and the twenty-one-gun salute had long passed. I still remember, as if it was yesterday, when the news of his death was shared with me. When the doctor said he felt I was emotionally ready to receive the news, my wife Kathy-standing by my bedside with tears streaming down her cheeks-told me that Jeff had been killed in the crash. Her words numbed my mind. I remember that it was more of a shock than a sorrow that hit me. I don’t think I said anything back to her. I just lay there staring at the ceiling and thinking, “How is that possible? I should have been able to save him. Why him, God, and not me?” I’ve never forgotten Jeff: his humor and wit, his desire to become a police pilot, or his love and devotion to you and his new baby girl. But I did come to grips with his death along time ago. I believe most cops probably think their demise will probably come by a bullet, but there are many other inherent dangers to the profession: traffic accidents while in pursuit, stabbing by an emotionally disturbed person, a fall from a high-rise while trying to grab a suicidal jumper, death from a booby- trap bomb in a drug raid, crushed in a building collapse from a terrorist incident, and yes…even a training accident in a helicopter. The everyday danger of being a cop is only understood by other cops. Lesa, I guess one of the reasons for writing this is that I need some final closure for me in another way. It had been months since the accident, so when I finally got out of the hospital, I wanted to see you. I wanted to express my sympathy and sorrow. Remember, I sent you a card saying that I would be glad to meet with you; to answer your questions and to tell you everything I could remember about that day leading up to the crash. I wanted to cry on your shoulder and let you cry on mine. You graciously replied to my note, but I was somewhat surprised that you didn’t want to see me. It was a message of rejection that has kept me awake nights, silently wondering…why? I thought, surely you would have questions that only I could answer. “Why did the engine quit when we were landing on that pinnacle in the mountains? Was Jeff a good pilot? Do you think he suffered?” So, yes, I was surprised when I received your reply stating that you preferred not to face me. This void has eaten at my heart for twenty-six years now. It’s difficult to explain the emptiness in my heart because I never got to talk to you. I wanted to explain how hard I tried to prevent the accident, and how close we came to walking away. To say there was a mechanical problem, and in spite of what the department said, it was not pilot error and that Jeff did nothing wrong. I wanted to let you know that after climbing out of the wreckage with my helmet visor melted to my face and my clothing on fire, I mumbled Jeff’s name to the hiker’s who came to my rescue; not heroically, but letting them know that there was someone else for them to help. Lesa, I wanted to tell you how sorry I was for not being able to do more to save Jeff’s life. Kathy knows that I had a difficult time with your rebuff. I tried to understand your position; I tried to put myself in your frame of mind as a young widow with a new infant daughter and having to grasp the realization of suddenly being devoid of your soul mate. But the more I tried to understand your reasoning for not wanting to see me, the more I imagined there was more to what really was going through your mind. Was it was my burn scars that motivated you not to see me? I can understand that. Yes, maybe that was it. With 70 percent burns, I did portray a pretty grotesque specimen of a human. Or was it simply because you blamed me for Jeff’s death? After all, I was the flight instructor. I was the experienced pilot with thousands of hours. I should have been able to prevent the accident. The more I dwelled on it, the more I came to the conclusion that it was probably a combination of these things. But whatever your reason, I respected your decision. And I thought that someday, when the time was right for you, you’d call me and then we could share our hugs and tears. But you never did. I heard that you remarried-another policeman, no less. I’m happy that you were able to find someone else, someone you can love as much as you did Jeff. Although I’ve never seen her, I can imagine your daughter is a beautiful young woman now. I mean, look at her parents. In closing, Lesa, I just want to share a few more of my most personal thoughts, some of the things I would have shared with you had we been able to get together. I will always remember the good times Jeff and I had when we carpooled to work, and the laughter and joking that we shared with other pilots and police officers at the heliport. He had already proven to be an outstanding officer on the tough streets of LA, one of the top observers of the unit, and now he was progressing into a fine pilot, too. I didn’t consider him just another student pilot. He was my police partner and close friend. It was a pleasure teaching him some of the flying skills I had obtained. In my flying career, I had previously experienced another engine failure, a cockpit fire, some combat damage, and myriad other in-flight emergencies. More fortunately, I survived two tours of Vietnam as an Army helicopter pilot, but my memories of this time end with having the names of twenty-seven of my pilot buddies inscribed on the Wall in Washington, D.C. When I joined the Los Angeles Police Department, I did so with the hope of becoming one of their helicopter pilots, and my dream was fulfilled in 1974. I looked upon my career as a pilot with LAPD’s Air Support Division as one that would provide a higher degree of safety than that involved in combat flying. I never imagined, though, with all that I have been through, I would to face another death caused by a helicopter accident…especially someone who was as close to me as Jeff. His death only added to the tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt I’ve experienced over the course of my lifetime. It’s hard for me to hear taps, or the sound of a bagpipe playing “Amazing Grace.” I’m not ashamed to say that it brings tears. But I will continue wiping away the tears if it means I never have to forget. Because I don’t ever want to forget my army buddies or Jeff, I have a couple of ways serve as a daily reminder. First, everyday at work I close out my computer with a sound file of taps and a volley of gunfire as a twenty-one-gun salute. It makes me think of those who wear a police or military uniform, and to remember that “all gave some, but some gave all.” Second, I have my dad’s, American flag, tri-folded and encased from his funeral, on display in my home. The three corners of the flag are a constant reminder for me; one corner representing his death, one corner representing my army friends who gave their lives in the service of their country, and one corner for Jeff- your husband, my partner. With love… Ron