Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Passing of Matt Porter

I feel greatly saddened by the death of Matt Porter on Monday, March 9, 2009, as the result of a small-airplane crash. Matt had commuted by air for years to his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory from his home in Edgewood, New Mexico (which is located about twenty minutes east of Albuquerque along I-40), hitching a ride on a single-engine aircraft belonging to, and piloted by, his friend Randy Rupert, who was also killed in the accident. The crash appears to have been weather-related, as it was raining and snowing early Monday morning. Matt was serving as bishop of the Eubank Ward, the singles ward in our (Albuquerque East) stake, and it's obvious he will be missed there. This is the second time in roughly ten years that tragedy has struck the Porter family, as Matt and his wife Paula (see photo) lost a daughter, Sara, in an accident on I-40 in 1999 that claimed the lives of several LDS kids who were en route from early-morning seminary in Edgewood to their high school in Moriarty. I don't know how Paula and her other kids can bear such bereavement a second time, except perhaps to take comfort in the thought that Matt and Sara are together now.

I can't remember when Matt's family first moved to Albuquerque, but he and I were members of the same Aaronic priesthood quorums growing up together in the old Albuquerque 6th Ward. We were all pretty rambunctious youth, but thank goodness most of the wildness wore off over time! Matt moved with his parents back to Colorado sometime around the beginning of 1975, so we didn't graduate from high school together; however, he later moved back to New Mexico after marrying Paula, who's a native of the Albuquerque area. (A couple of my brothers used to play high school basketball with her brother Roger Switzer.) I'll always remember spending a long night in 2003 with Matt in Ft. Stanton Cave, as he and I formed part of a rescue team trying to get an injured young man out of the cave. The following morning we exited the cave a couple of hours ahead of the main rescue party, and the local news media, hungry for information about the kid's condition, pounced on us. Matt, the smart one, ducked out and left me there to be interviewed live on television; I still don't know if I had anything coherent to say.

It's hard for me not to ponder the idea of living in a semi-rural area like Edgewood and having to drive on I-40 (which tends to be clogged with heavily laden trucks) to get anywhere -- not to mention having to fly in a single-engine plane every day to get to work in Los Alamos. Clearly, living in Edgewood entails certain risks that now have twice deeply bitten the Porter family. It makes me appreciate living in town and having a fifteen-minute car commute to work that entails no freeway travel.

[Update: I found out that apparently four people commuted regularly to Los Alamos on the plane that crashed -- two of them reportedly declined to fly that day, presumably because of the weather, which puts the question of risk into sharper relief. Also, I hadn't realized that Matt and Paula's son Silas is still on his church mission; Silas decided not to come home for the funeral, instead sending a very thoughtful, mature letter that one of his father's friends read from the pulpit during the service. When I was a missionary, my worst nightmare would have been to lose a parent while I was away; thus I think Silas's ability to take the long view of things is admirable in the extreme.]