HENRY DILTZ is a legendary photographer who has graced us with hundreds of iconic photos of musicians and their album covers.
Rock Cellar Feature Interview – HERE
But he almost never lived to tell us about it. Here’s a story where Henry talks about a harrowing near-death glider accident he had with his friend – singer/songwriter Jimmy Webb:
HENRY DILTZ: The record company sent us over to Jimmy Webb’s house when he’d just done Up, Up and Away. We got to be friends, and he’s one of my favorite songwriters.
He had a glider, and he wanted to take pictures to go with an album of stuff he’d written, like…”glider music.” One song: Land’s End. So we went out to Pear Blossom and spent the day, took photos, and it became the album cover.
We had a slide show at his house– and I also had a Super-8 camera and I took movies of him, out the window of the glider – movies from the ground of the glider, just fooling around. So at the slide show at his house I put this movie on, 10 minutes. He ran and got a tape and it was his song -Land’s End-that he’d written about gliding. It fit the music perfectly! We said, ‘Let’s make a movie! 16mm! No, 35mm!’
So we rented cameras, one for the ground and one in the plane. I sat in the front with a huge camera with reels on the top. To make it really dramatic we decided to go back high in the mountains. Usually we’d go up the side of the mountains and come gliding down onto the desert floor, but we went higher back into the mountains.
Well, we got caught in a down draft that sucked us down. As we got closer to the last pass to get out into the desert, we sunk lower and lower until we couldn’t get over. I was filming.
Jimmy turned the plane around and went back into the valley saying, “Well, we’re in trouble.”
On the mountains there were pine trees with snow covering them, no flat area. At the bottom there was a stream with boulders. So you couldn’t land anywhere. His gliding instructor had told him, “If you ever have to crash into trees, pick two trees so you can hit both wings off at the same time.” Otherwise if you hit one wing it’ll spin you around. So he did that. He aimed right into the forest, and he took out the wings.
I was still filming. I could see trees going by peripherally, and then– WHAM!. I didn’t really feel it, but I kind of almost remember it in my soul – just this huge impact. We were unconscious immediately, it just knocked us right out.
We came to a couple of minutes later, looking down at the ground. Luckily we had hired a helicopter, a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter later in the day was going to come and we were going to film air-to-air. I was going to get in the helicopter and film the glider up in the air. So he arrived at the base camp. They’d lost track of us: “I don’t see them anywhere, they must’ve gone down.”
We had walkie-talkies that didn’t work down in the valley. The helicopter came and the guy piloting it was a rescue helicopter guy, we’d hired it from a company. He came cruising over, spotted us, landed. He had to take Jimmy out first. Jimmy had a bad cut by his eye.
I had a cut and blood running down my face, he had blood running down his face, I had twisted my ankle, but we were ok. He could only take us out one at a time ‘cause there was so much down-draft that it was very hard to get up off the ground.
When he took me out he said, “I’ve taken a lot of bodies out of these mountains. Yours are the first live ones.”