Lanson C. Ross III and his wife, Allison

Lanson C. Ross III, 48, and his wife, Allison, are pictured in their home. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / October 17, 2011)

Lanny Ross struggled to push his 78-year-old mother through the surf toward shore.

On a cool, cloudy October afternoon, his two-seater plane had smacked into the Chesapeake Bay, stranding them both amid five-foot waves.

His mother's right eye was swollen shut, her teeth had pierced her bottom lip, and her nose was broken. Miles from land, the sun was setting and they were shivering, when his mother spoke.

Hold my hand, she told him.

What's wrong? he asked her.

Hold my hand, she said again.

He grabbed her fingers and held them for a moment. Then he went back to pushing her toward land.

Lanson "Lanny" C. Ross III, 48, had lived far from his parents for decades because of his career with the Air Force and the Air Force Reserve. But this autumn, his parents, Mary Lagerquist and Lanson "Lance" C. Ross Jr., had driven across the country from Washington state in a motor home to visit Lanny and his wife at their new home in Fort Washington.

After Maryland, the parents planned to head to Florida to visit Lanny's older brother — wrapping up their long East Coast swing before Lance would pursue treatment for prostate cancer. Though divorced, they liked to travel together.

"One last hurrah," Lanny recalled recently from his home. Six feet tall and solid, he has a shaved head, a wide and toothy mouth. Lanny is talkative, though his emotions are well-protected. His directness comes across as macho, coarse even.

Lanny had never flown with Mary, who, even into her late 70s, was beautiful, adventurous, an accomplished musician. They were close, and tried to speak by phone every day.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, they took off from Hyde Field airstrip in Clinton, a short drive from Andrews Air Force Base, where Lanny works.

"More than anything else on this trip, she wanted to ride in that little airplane with Lanny," said Lance. "[Mary] was waving at me as they went down the runway, and grinning as big as a [Cheshire] cat."

Conditions were not ideal for the 63-year-old restored Globe Swift. The cloud deck that day was at 2,200 feet, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. That was lower than Lanny would have liked. He's most comfortable if there's at least 3,500 feet of airspace.

Still, the flight to Tangier Island, Va., was short and smooth.

During his six months in Maryland, Tangier Island became Lanny's default place to fly. It's not far — about a 45-minute trip — and the flight path avoids Washington's restricted airspace. It's also home to delicious crab cakes.

Lanny and Mary didn't stay long. They walked through town for less than an hour, appreciating the long-inhabited island's gravestones and reading the names of memorialized vets. And they stopped for lunch, buying a to-go container of cream of crab soup.

Mary thought Tangier was a treasure, Lanny said, and joked that she should move there.

Back at the airstrip, another pilot was getting into a plane and wearing a yellow inflatable life preserver with a light attached to it.

"I thought it looked cute," recalled Lanny, who was flying without life preservers; he did not think the width of the bay demanded it.