The Intersection of Dr. Ted Fujita and Homer Hickam, Jr.

Tonight, Kathleen and I were watching the inspirational movie, October Sky, on cable TV. The movie is based on the adolescence of Homer Hickam, Jr. growing up in the mining town of Coalwood, WV. The movie is based on Hickam's #1 New York Times' bestseller, Rocket Boys. After the launch of Sputnick in 1957, Homer and three other young men began shooting off home made rockets which eventually led them to winning the national science fair. I highly recommend both the movie and book. I based the style of writing (like novel, rather than a science book) for both Warnings and Sirens on Rocket Boys and The Right Stuff. Both of those books amply prove that science writing does not have to be boring.

While we were chatting, Kathleen asked if Mr. Hickam had married a girl from Coalwood. I didn't think so and went to his web site. While that question is not definitively answered, I ran across this tidbit,

In 1984, Mr. Hickam was presented with Alabama's Distinguished Service Award for heroism shown during a rescue effort of the crew and passengers of a sunken paddleboat in the Tennessee River. Because of this award, Mr. Hickam was honored in 1996 by the United States Olympic Committee to carry the Olympic Torch through Huntsville, Alabama, on its way to Atlanta. 

A lightbulb went on: Didn't the late Dr. Ted Fujita investigate a paddle boat accident involving a downburst in the 1980's?

I did a little research and, sure enough, it was the same incident.

A party boat known as the SCItanic (due to it being owned by a technology company for client outings) was sunk in 70 mph downburst winds. Mr. Hickam, who was and is a certified SCUBA diver, went in to rescue survivors and pulled a number to safety before seriously cutting his arm. Eleven people perished in the sinking.
Dr. Ted Fujita
The National Weather Service in Huntsville has a complete report on the sinking, including the essential parts of Ted's research.

Ted was my meteorological hero. Homer (although we've never met or corresponded) is a talented author whose writing style I admire.

Amazing how things intersect in life.


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