It may have been a splurge, but chartering a Learjet allowed a Long Island businessman and his small entourage to travel to Tennessee Monday to view the total eclipse of the sun — and be home in time to sleep in their own beds.
Shortly before totality, when the entire sun was covered by the moon, the group popped two bottles of champagne, with gasps and wows coming once the sun was totally darkened, said Gary Caparelli, 65, of Lawrence.
The group of friends and family members had been awaiting the big show in a grassy picnic area at the small airport in Rockwood, Tennessee, he said, having taken off from Farmingdale’s Republic Airport earlier in the morning.
As the sun went totally dark, winds picked up and temperatures dropped, he said. Photoelectric cells clicked on automatically on some of the 12 or so other airplanes that had carried other eclipse chasers to the spot. For a while there was an “eerie calm,” he said.
“Spectacular,” Caparelli said, just before boarding the jet for the ride back home. “Absolutely fascinating.”
The upscale flight started as a joke, he said, when about a month ago he heard reports of massive traffic jams that were expected on roadways, as sky watchers swarmed to the narrow strip of totality that was to cut across the country.
Having originally planned a “leisurely drive” to view totality in Columbia, South Carolina, Caparelli said he then reached out to his cousin Joe Tavalaro, a pilot with Ventura Air Services, based at Republic. In jest, Caparelli asked about the cost of leasing a jet. But later, he asked himself: “You know what? Why not?”
Others, too, saw potential in avoiding clogged highways and flying the path of totality. Maureen Tarascio, senior charter account manager with Ventura, said she got at least 50 inquiries over the past week for eclipse flights. Caparelli’s was the company’s second flight to totality Monday, with another jet earlier having departed to Tennessee, she said.
The pilot on Caparelli’s flight, Tavalaro, 67, of Woodmere, said he tried to talk his cousin into waiting for the total eclipse that’s coming in 2024, when the path of totality will cross upstate New York.
But both the eclipse and getting to fly in a Learjet were two items that were on Caparelli’s bucket list for a long time. Plus, he took great delight in including friends and family in the excursion, among them his son Julien Caparelli, 23; his stepson James Mikulka, 30; and his stepson’s daughter Cassidy, who just turned 9.
Yes, the trip was a splurge, he said. And “obviously, you can’t do it unless you have deep pockets” — this, on even an occasional basis. Still, he said, it could be justified for a “one-time experience,” such as the eclipse, or possibly even for some significant family reunion.
The price tag for the trip is around $10,000 to $12,000, he said. But when he’s asked about the cost, he’s simply been replying that it’s “priceless.”