Georgio Tortani, 38, moved to America with his father when he was eight, but did not go back to see his mother, in Padua, Italy, for nearly twenty years. When he was 19, he developed a dread fear of flying.
His mother, Lucina Tortani, 74, a victim of terminal cancer, is in the last stages of life. She begged her son to visit her before she passed away.
“She just wanted to see his face one last time,” says Nichole Tortani, 35, Georgio’s grieving widow.
“And he wanted to see her. He missed her terribly, but planes terrified him. He had tried a number of times to make the trip, but each time he got too sick in the airport to even get on the plane.”
Tortani decided to spend a little time each day on the roof of his house when he heard a psychologist suggest the procedure on a television talk show.
He had made plane reservations a month in advance, and was increasing his time on the roof each day. His goal was to be able to spend seven hours on the roof.
“He had a chair up there, and he just sat and read travel magazines,” Nichole says. “He was trying to pretend he was in the air.
“He said that he was getting used to it, but I could tell that deep down he wasn’t. I’d look at him up there, sometimes, and he was white as a sheet — just terrified.”
It is not known what caused Tortani to slip. Doctors are certain that he did not have a stroke or heart attack while on the roof. They are sure that Tortani’s death occurred from head injuries. He hit the pavement of his driveway headfirst.
“He might have fallen asleep up there,” says Dr. Milt Wheester, the emergency room physician who pronounced Tortani dead. “Or he might have fallen on purpose. It might have been his absurd way of committing suicide. We know that he was very depressed about his mother’s illness, and his fear of flying.”
The roof of Tortani’s house is very steep. The phobic non-flyer had been putting his chair on the very top, with two legs on each half of the peak of the slanted roof.