Since his 19-year-old son died in a plane crash in Augusta a year ago today, Ronnie Baker II has taken a job assignment that sends him to Africa for 28 days at a time.
The assignment with GE keeps him busy while he copes with the loss of his son, Ron Baker III, and it keeps his mind focused on others because needy children are plentiful there, he said. "You talk about people hurting."
Back in Cartersville, Ga., another hurt remains for the young pilot who was a "real good kid," as Mr. Baker puts it.
The teenager piloted the plane that crash-landed into the Congregation Children of Israel Temple on Walton Way on Dec. 5, 2007.
Today, the teenager's supervisor at Phoenix Air, Laurie Abernathy, plans to travel from Cartersville to the Augusta temple to place flowers at the crash site to find closure. The temple also will remember the crash and Mr. Baker at its regular services tonight.
"Coming up on the year (anniversary), it's just been rough for me," Ms. Abernathy said.
Efforts to memorialize Mr. Baker included a headstone at the Cartersville Airport and soon the addition of his name to a plaque at the Augusta temple, which has been repaired.
After Mr. Baker's death, his family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Phoenix Air. The money helped pay for a private flying license.
"Ronnie's still doing good even though he's dead," his father said by phone just hours before heading to Africa again.
Those at the Congregation Children of Israel Temple say they can never forget how Mr. Baker avoided hitting any homes or cars and how the point of impact with a stairway at the temple likely prevented others from dying.
"The flames were really trapped for the most part by that stairway," said Rabbi Robert Klensin, adding that officials told him if the plane had hit anywhere else it likely would have destroyed the building and endangered people who were in a kitchen preparing a Hanukkah meal.
"Just as he was saving lives by not hitting the houses around or the cars ... he came in and hit the building that way. It might well have been safer for him to go somewhere else. I think he clearly was thinking of others."
According to a preliminary report on the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board, Mr. Baker was flying from Charleston, S.C., to Cartersville when he reported "a rough-running engine" and asked for the nearest airport in the Augusta area. He was told of Daniel Field Airport, but before reaching it, he reported that the engine had "quit" and that he would try to land on a road or highway. No other radio contact was made with Mr. Baker.
Rabbi Klensin still calls it a miracle that no one else was injured at the temple. Remembering such a blessing, he said, is especially poignant as the holiday season approaches -- the crash occurred on the second night of Hanukkah.
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