I shouldn’t be alive!

Normally the title of a very corny American TV show where people escape death, but only just. These are usually people unfortunate enough to be attacked by crocodiles while out on a wilderness hike and then don’t get rescued for another 2 weeks by which time most of their limbs have fallen off and they smell pretty bad, but they’re still alive. In my case it’s nothing more thrilling than my turning down an invitation to fly to Dubrovnik.

I should start at the beginning. Today was the day to sort out the garage. This means wading through the mountains of junk that had accumulated and “dealing with it”. A few of the boxes I unearthed contained old papers of ours and in one of mine I found something I’d been looking for for ages, a table called “One way to spend 12 days!!”. I was prompted to create this table in 1996 after I’d spent an especially crazy 12 days travelling for work. I did an awful lot of travelling back then but this was slightly more than usual and worthy of recording so that on a day like today I could look back on how mad it all was.

In summary; the 12 days were between 19th February and 8th March 1996 during which time I….

  • Visited 6 countries – Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and Norway
  • Was in 17 cities – Vienna, Budapest, Zagreb, Rijeka, Pula, Rovinj, Porec, Umag, Ljubljana, Milano, Modena, Bologna, Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Gjovik and Hamar.
  • Checked out 103 potential business locations.
  • Took 13 flights
  • Stayed in 6 hotels for a total of 10 nights
  • Drove 2,290 km

Hard work but you got to see the world! Norway in February was cold, I seem to remember, and it was the first and only time I’ve driven across a frozen lake, a really big one.

Anyway, the point here revolves around the Croatia visit. Worth noting that the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II, the Bosnian War, had ended only two months before my visit and Croatia was a very close neighbour to where all the killing was going on. This was normal practice for me as I had all the dangerous countries in my patch so I became the companies “war correspondent” and was often flying into places that nobody else wanted to go anywhere near.

I was there to meet a franchisee called Barry Conrad. Barry was a big, well dressed and very nice American who’s family had made a fortune in hotels and was now venturing into all sorts of other areas, one of them being fast food. I thought I was going to have a general look around, see some potential sites, meet the business partners and so on and I did do some of that but I also “enjoyed” a close up tour of the abattoir and meat factory from where the burgers were planned to be produced. A bit of an eye opener that was! After our business was concluded, Barry invited me to join him on a trip down to Dubrovnik, right on the doorstep of the war zone. I was tempted because I’d never seen Dubrovnik (and still haven’t) but as my “12 days” schedule was tight I needed to keep moving to to deal with Slovenia, Italy and Norway. I therefore declined the offer and moved on.

Some days later when I returned to the office I was informed that on April 3rd, Barry had died in a plane crash. His flight to Dubrovnik hit a mountain and killed everyone on board. It’s a strange feeling when you get such news, sadness for the loss of someone you knew and were with less than a week ago coupled with a spooky feeling knowing how close you were to death. Any number of circumstances could have resulted in me having the time or even the need to take that flight and yet, thank goodness, those circumstances didn’t arise and while I went about my business, Barry’s plane hit a mountain.

Remembering this incident now, prompted me to check the internet for details. I’d always thought Barry was with a small group in a private plane going down there to do some business but I was wrong it seems and the crash itself is famous. Barry was actually part of an official US trade mission that included the United States Secretary of Commerce, Ron Brown and 34 others including 11 from the US government, CIA and so on, Nathaniel Nash from the New York Times and 12 business leaders, of which Barry was one. They were heading down to Bosnia to see how they could help the rebuilding of the country and no doubt make a few bucks in the process.

Whilst such a crash would be notable in any event, this one became all the more infamous thanks to the conspiracy theories that Ron Brown had been assassinated as a cover-up, potentially on the instructions of Bill Clinton.

It’s a funny old world!

5 thoughts on “I shouldn’t be alive!

  1. No wonder your blog has such a following, when you serve up stories like this. But I won’t ask you for more of the same.

    You certainly had stamina in 1996.

  2. Interesting post. I also had an aeronautical brush with death a few years ago. I was in Sierra Leone returning from Freetown to the airport and we were forced to get on to one of the old clapped out Russian helicopters that fly the 60 km between the the city and the airport. A 30 year old Russian helicopter, owned by a Nigerian company, flown by Ukranian pilots in Sierra Leone: not a country known for its health and safety rigorousness at the best of times. Unfortunately, a couple of days later the helicopter on the same run developed mechanical failures, crash landed with the Togolese minister of sport and a number of other Togolese government officials in it, and they were burnt to death. I feel sorry for all the people and their families in the crash but you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t think: that could have been me.

  3. I grew up with Barry as my other big brother. He had lived with us so he could finish high school, while his parents moved to DC, due to my uncle getting a position there. I was just thinking about him today and thought I bring back some old wonderful memories of him.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Barb, and sorry for your loss all those years ago. It was a shock for me and I didn’t even know him that well so for people like you it must have been horrid.

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