Smith: Memorial service set for Graton family killed in Nebraska plane crash
Amidst a Sept. 29 memorial service for the three members of an extraordinary west Sonoma County family, eyes will turn skyward for a flyover by several private airplanes flown by pilots with heavy hearts.
The aerial salute will honor geologists Damon and Sarah Brown and their son and frequent flying partner, Analy High School and Occidental College graduate Duncan Brown.
They died together in July when the twin-engine plane that Damon Brown flew regularly crashed just short of an airport in northwestern Nebraska. The Browns were intending to land and refuel on a flight home from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and the world’s largest fly-in convention.
“They loved to fly — the freedom of it,” said Karen von Somogyi of Santa Barbara, Damon Brown’s sister. She said her brother was known as a most meticulous and safety conscious pilot.
“We just never thought it (a crash) would happen.”
THE MEMORIAL for the Browns is 11 a.m. Sept. 29 at the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building. At one point in the ceremony, a number of private pilots will fly over the vets’ building.
The July 24 crash of Damon Brown’s 1965 Beechcraft 95B55 Baron near Chadron, Nebraska, cut short three notably productive and accomplished lives.
Damon and Sarah Brown, who met in college in Colorado, both were successful geologists. Sarah Brown put her imagination and her knowledge of geology to creative and entertaining use as novelist.
Under her maiden name, Sarah Andrews, she produced a dozen professionally published murder, mystery and mayhem books. For most of the novels, she assumed the alter ego of forensic geologist Emily “Em” Hansen.
The award-winning petroleum geologist and author shared on her website, “I write the books to make geology easier to access (and of course to spin a good yarn) ...”
One reviewer wrote on publishersweekly.com that the author “shines at showing readers what it’s like to be a scientist.” The review observed also that though “science and detective work should go together naturally,” few writers engage in scientific mystery.
Of those who do, the reviewer wrote, the geologist from Sonoma County “has become a leading light.”
In accepting the 2016 President’s Medal from the Geological Society of America, Sarah Brown wrote, “I write novels set in the geosciences because scientists in general and geologists in particular are under-represented in popular media, and when we do appear, we are often portrayed under ominous stereotypes with untrustworthy motivations and suspect findings.
“I wanted the public to know why and how the study of the Earth is significant and what we as geoscientists really do: We strive to understand natural systems and resources that are essential to life on this planet.”
Sarah Brown, who grew up in New York State, lectured at Sonoma State University and across the nation, did field work in Antarctica and four of the Earth’s other six continents and was an avid sailor, skier and pilot. Content in recent years to let her husband do the flying, she let her pilot’s license lapse.
Her sister-in-law, von Somogyi, said she left behind three unfinished new novels.
DAMON BROWN was born in Lansing, Michigan, and prepared for a career in geology at UC Santa Cruz and at Colorado State, where he met his future wife.