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flight fright
Son’s Accident Puts Mom’s
Fear of Flying in Perspective

by Dina Santorelli

It had been about 20 years since Josephine “Candy” Jahier had been on a plane.

Although in her youth she’d flown to places like Europe, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, “there was a fear that kept creeping up more and more,” says the Huntington resident. “Every time I flew, I would be anxious before [the trip], and when I got to my destination, I would be worried about the flight back.”

That anxiety had gotten so bad that “I couldn't pass an airport without shuddering,” says Jahier, who works as interim director of waste management for the Town of Huntington. “I couldn’t even smell airplane fuel.”

Jahier had heard about a program called “Fly Without Fear” an East Northport-based self-help course run by Herb and Carol Cott Gross. Held at LaGuardia Airport, the classes combine education, desensitization and group support. Jahier started taking classes in late 2000. “I thought, Just go and do this, what could it hurt?” she says.

IShe attended Thursday evening meetings faithfully, meeting pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers and maintenance experts, all who replaced fears with facts. Jahier even boarded a “static” plane to get reacquainted with the smells, sights and feel of being on a plane. She says, “The first time I got on and got off, I was extremely elated — like, wow, I didn’t think I would ever do this again!” Jahier had been taking classes for nearly a year when the attacks of September 11th occurred. “People all around me were suddenly afraid to fly.” Ironically, the tragedies had an opposite effect on her. “I said to myself, ‘There’s nobody on a plane who is going to be passive again.’”

Then while waiting to take her first real group flight in June of 2002, Jahier's then 18-year-old son John had a swimming pool accident, leaving him a quadriplegic. “He was in Mount Sinai for three months,” Jahier explains. “For me, flying had lost its traumatic effect, and suddenly crashing on a plane didn’t seem to be the end of the earth.

Losing my son would have been the end of the earth.”

That mindset brought Jahier back to class, and, with a friend, she took her first flight to Boston along with the rest of her class later that year. “It was a triumph!” says Jahier. “I had been extremely apprehensive, and as I got to the threshold of the plane, there was a tremendous hesitation, but I said, No, I’m doing this.”

After passing that first test with flying colors, she joined her group for a flight to Washington, D.C. “On the return trip, I was able to sit back in the seat and take out my book and start reading,” Jahier says. “It was more than I could have hoped for.”

Last April, Jahier flew solo, taking a flight to Boston without her group and is now planning a trip to Las Vegas for New Year’s.

“There’s nothing wrong with being afraid of something,” says the “over 40”-something. “But after going to the group and doing all the prerequisite work, you start to realize that a plane can stay up in the air.

Dina Santorelli is a freelance writer based in Massapequa Park

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