How One Family’s Tragedy Became Training For Future Pilots
By NATHANIEL SANDLER
Life has been difficult this year for one of Wynwood’s most celebrated gallerists.
Nina Johnson, owner and operator of Gallery Diet, has been emotionally supporting her family through the worst of times.
In December of 2012, Nina’s brother, Timothy Johnson Jr., a pilot in his free time, was flying alone in a two engine Cessna that took off from Lantana Airport. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff.
His father, Tim Sr., watched the aircraft ascend, falter and go down.
Trying to encapsulate what must have been going through his heart and mind would not do the helpless horror of the situation proper justice.
The Johnson family lost a son, husband, brother and the world lost a good man. Last Friday would have been Timothy Johnson Jr.’s 34th birthday. He is survived by father Tim Sr. and mother Joy, sister Nina and brother-in-law Dan, and most of all beloved wife Carly.
Many people who suffer through this kind of aviation tragedy choose to eschew flying and airplanes altogether. But the Johnson family is made of different stuff and they are trying to turn this tragedy into something positive.
South Floridians might not know that amongst our growing higher education credentials is one of the only and best aviation degree programs for pilots-in-training in the United States. Most programs offer a certification, but Miami Dade College (MDC) offers the unique combination of certification with academic degree which expands a candidates skill and knowledge set.
“In addition to Embry-Riddle and Broward,” states Dr. Jeffrey Thomas, dean of the college’s academic and student affairs, “there are a number of flight schools whose programs lead to certifications, but not degrees. It is part of our challenge to convince students of the value of the degree in addition to the flight ratings.”
And well-trained pilots are important given the abundance of air traffic both domestically and internationally.
Part of the difficulty of becoming a pilot is the money that it takes to become certified, and it often turns off well-qualified students that might not be able to afford a complete education.
In Timothy’s memory, the Johnson family, in conjunction with the Miami Dade College’s Eig-Watson School of Aviation, created the Timothy E. Johnson Jr. Scholarship. It provides $40,000 annually for five students ($8,000 each) that can applied toward getting their licenses.
“Flight training is very expensive and the cost will continue to rise as fuel and insurance costs in particular rise,” explains Nairobi Adams, senior director of development at MDC, “on the other hand, we are beginning to see a pilot shortage in the U.S. and abroad.
“This scholarship allows MDC to assist more students to complete their flight training in a shorter period of time and be able to compete effectively in the emerging job market for pilots.”
What the Johnson family has done to help support the aviation community has been impressive. Nina hopes that they can “turn all the pain from this horrible tragedy into something good,” and there’s a real sense that they want to build upon Timothy’s legacy positively instead of suffer.
She adds that “there’s already so much pain in the world. It’s our responsibility to contribute something positive, even when faced with grief.”
Timothy Jr. was heavily involved in a charity called Pilots N Paws, a charity that helps transport rescued animals to adopters or hospitals when needed. Nina describes the organization as “a cool program that exemplifies what Timothy was all about, filling a practical need to help someone.”
Indeed, Timothy’s legacy will live on with the Timothy E. Johnson Jr. Scholarship, which fits that exact same description.
“It’s important to me and my wife,” offers Tim Johnson Sr. “to recognize how much flying meant to Timothy and to ensure that his legacy lives on through something productive and positive.”