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Location:Texas, USA Naturalized US Citizen of Irish extract -   Fixed Wing and Helo trucker.Interests: "The Absurdity of Man". I am a proud supporter of Blarney, Nonsense, and Hooey. I enjoy being a chopper jockey, and trying to figure the world, people and belief systems out. I'm just not very good at it, so it keeps me real busy. I scribble, blog, run this website, mess with rental houses, ride motorbikes, and read as much as I can. I went solo 44 years ago, and I like to say I'm gonna get me a real job one day. When I grow up. ("but not just yet, Lord, not just yet") For my aviation scribbles see www.chopperstories.com.... enjoy! I wish you Peace in your Life. May you always walk with the sun on your face, and a breeze ruffling your hair. And may you cherish a quiet wonder for our awesome Universe. Life isn't always good. But it is always fascinating. Never quit.
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A Blip on the Radar (Part 33) Fly Quietly, for our Friends lie there


A Blip on the Radar


Part 33:   Fly quietly, for our Friends lie there  



      Truth, many say, is stranger than fiction.
For sure. I wholly concur. As an obsessive scribbler, I seldom worry about inventing a plot.
I just try and describe what I see and feel.
But I would add this:  Looking back on Truth, through the lens of years or decades past, often imparts on that Truth a strange, dream-like, surreal quality. It is of such a dream, a bygone shadow, that lingers relentlessly in the twilight of my memory, gesticulating, demanding to be told, that I now at last wish to write.

      In Guam, there lies the port harbor of Agana.
The Navy Seals train there. There is also a sheltered area, where a lot of scuba diving takes place. I dived extensively there. The water has a lot of World War Two relics, including aircraft, and some ships. I experienced a dangerous case of Nitrogen Narcosis whilst diving on one of them, but it was a training reflex that brought me through. There are corals, and plenty of tropical fish. The corals are somewhat dusty and struggle against a relentless onslaught of silt and trainee scuba divers. Many diving schools operate in that area, catering for the huge numbers of eager Japanese tourists that flock to Guam.  My memories of my dives there are enjoyment, down below, in the warm tropical waters, where we swim slowly and leisurely, admiring the brightly colored fish. The birds of the Amazonian Rain Forest cannot compare with these fish, in terms of numbers and diversity. It is paradise, and surreal, and wondrous. It's a calm, magic place.
Yes, my memories of my dives there are enjoyment, down below, in the warm tropical waters, where we swim slowly and leisurely, admiring the brightly colored fish. It's like a dream, gone by. But those memories are also tinged, and contrasted, startlingly, with a different reflection.

       Some of my memories tend to associate themselves with one another.
Although one incident might have happened months or years before the second,  they are nonetheless, in the early morning, pearl laced, spider's web of Fate...  inexorably linked.
And some memories I know I don't want to write about. I've been putting it off. For many years. They make me uncomfortable.
Maybe it makes me feel vulnerable too.
But somehow, if the truth will be told of what goes on out there, in the Tuna Fields, then these stories too should be told.  
And if I care... then I will tread lightly along the Path of Memories. Fly respectfully down Memory Lane.
       For friends lie there, buried along the way.  

       I remember a small group of us pilots were chatting in the office of the Boss. We were talking about fatal accidents that had befallen tuna helicopter pilots.  We were talking about accident causes. Prevention. Somebody maybe writing it all down, in a Tuna Helicopter Manual.  I was wondering idly if I might have a shot at it one day. And we were trying to remember names.
People would remember the accident. Remember the likely accident cause. Remember perhaps some of the circumstances.
The fall out. Maybe the law suit. The wife that came over. The girl friend. The parent. To collect the body.
       And take them home.
We were having trouble remembering names.
Nationality? Yes.  First name? Maybe. Last name....?  Somebody would throw out a suggestion. No, we would say, that's not it. Another suggestion. No, that's not it either.
      Hmmmm....
It was Roger, thoughtfully, who put something into words. Something I've never quite been able to forget.
He said it quietly. And I know the room went silent.
      "I guess that's what happens.... you crash, you die. People talk about you for a while. And then they forget your name..."

       It's true. But it doesn't seem right.
If we care, should we forget? Should we hide it away?
       For friends lie there, buried along the way.

      Maybe a year after that, a group of us Tuna Heads were standing outside the old Big Eye hangar. In Tumon, Guam.
That was the hangar Big Eye had occupied for decades. It was to be the second last hangar they occupied. They vacated it, for a cheaper rental. Nine months later, the original hangar, an icon almost of the Tuna Helicopter Industry, was totally destroyed in hurricane Paka.
We were chatting, as pilots do, about helicopters, control friction and bearings, and women, especially the loose and easy ones. The bearings, I mean.
Then in the distance, we heard the unmistakable rumbling approach of a helicopter. It seemed to be slow moving. Soon we could see a Bell 47, struggling into view, towing a long advertising banner.  A weighted cable hung beneath the helicopter, and the banner trailed rearwards from that, flapping gaily and invitingly. Fifteen feet or so below the tail rotor...
Wow...
We all read the banner. I think it was about some super market. He came right by us, at low altitude.  I could see the pilot looking at us.
Two hundred feet. Maybe two hundred fifty. Kind of struggling.
There were comments.

"Wow. That's low. Hope he knows what he's doing...."
"Guess there's a lot of drag off that banner.... what do you think?"
"Man, if that donkey quits, he's not gonna have much time to react..."
"They probably want him that low, so people will read the stupid thing..."
"That's gotta to be a hell of a way to make a living..."
"Oh, it's a dude from Scotland, building flight hours. He wants to go tuna fishing..."
"Really? Poor sod..."

      It's funny the way older pilots, with some or a lot of experience, always cast a weathered eye over somebody else's flying. You can't help it. You just do it, instinctively. I remember distinctly not envying him his job.

That night, as we often did in Guam,we all met up in a bar. Including the laddie from Scotland. Whose name, I confess to my shame, I temporarily forget.  
Oh, dammit...tip of my tongue...errrr....
I'll call him Danny...
Danny was a perfectly delightful young fellow. Very friendly and chatty. Good looking, and a winner with the girls. The bar maids loved him. When he spoke about his helicopter flying, his eyes positively shone. His enthusiasm was tremendous. He was working for (...) Helicopters.  He felt they were doing him a magnificent favor. He didn't have the flight hours for fishing, but he was going to tow the banner for a few months, for two to three hours a day, build up another three or four hundred hours, and then,(…) Helicopters were going to send him out fishing! And then...
After a few years of that, he'd have enough money and flight time, to maybe go fly the North Sea.  His eyes shone with excitement.
Super Pumas...

     I had already spent two years flying helicopters on the North Sea, Super Pumas et all, and I was able to tell him all about it.
I left out the cold, the rain and the gray boredom. That awful, cursed, heavy rubber immersion suit. That stifles you, and leaves you marinating in your own farts. Fits like a vice round your neck and wrists. Itches, irritates. Like sitting around in a gigantic condom. And the three axis auto pilot, and the fact you could set it a hundred and fifty miles offshore, and never touch the controls again, until the ship leveled itself at fifty feet above the runway...  We weren't pilots. We were machine watchers. Auto pilot minders. Passenger chaperones.
Pencil pushers.
I left out the fact that I had been soon disappointed and frustrated. It was easier to key in to this young man's mighty and infectious enthusiasm. And encourage him.
       Yeah man, you are some lucky! What a DEAL...!
Lovely chap. Everybody liked him. He had his life planned out. The girls swooned over him. That delightful Scottish accent, coming from a slim and handsome frame, and those bright, eager eyes...

       A few days later....
Terrible, terrible news.  I remember we heard the word, and we all just sort of stared at each other in open mouthed horror.
      Tell me it isn't true...
He was dead. Lying on a marble slab in a morgue somewhere.
Stone cold dead. Killed towing that same blasted banner.
        It made me sick at heart.

We never did hear the full story. You rarely do. Tuna helicopter companies don't put out statements. They don't release accident reports.
Hell no....
They mostly hide everything. Bad for business. Ignore it, everybody. Ignore it, and eventually you will all forget his name...

     We heard the banner had hit the tail rotor.  As seen by witnesses. Then we heard, no, he'd had an engine failure.
All I know is this:  whatever happened, whatever went wrong, for an inexperienced pilot, operating for hours and hours at that very, very low altitude... even without the distraction and the terrific drag off that awful banner...
Boy...
That's pushing it. Pushing it hard...

     And so, he died.
Another name... we struggle to remember. Amongst the hundreds who have met their last day, toiling in the Tuna Fields.  Pilots, mechanics, observers, captains, deck hands... the list goes on.

Even now, after all these years, it leaves a hollow, sick feeling in my gut. Such a waste. Such an awesome laddie, who brightened the place up, wherever he went.

The dream-like portion of this story also comes in, when I tell you my better half and I went scuba diving all the time in the harbor at Agana. She used to buy cans of small sausages, with which to feed the fish. Whenever I wanted to know where she was, I would just look around for the biggest swarm of fish, milling around like crazy, with a pair of bright pink flippers ("fins") sticking out the bottom. That would be her... in her element, feeding tropical fish.  
We had barely finished up, dried off and left on that day, when Danny came over, towing his banner. He was low, the witnesses said. Suddenly...
They say he came straight down, with no warning, and hit the water incredibly hard. Right in the middle of the scuba diving training area. And sank, immediately. A dozen would-be rescuers, scuba diving instructors and dive masters grabbed equipment, and raced to help. They arrived down below about as fast as it is humanly possible…
Too late...
Danny was "unresponsive" we were told.

      Some memories I know I don't want to write about.
I've been putting it off. For many years. They make me uncomfortable.
Maybe it makes me feel vulnerable too.
But somehow, if the truth will be told of what goes on out there, in the Tuna Fields, then these stories too should be told.  

And if I care... then I will tread lightly along the Path of Memories. Fly respectfully down Memory Lane.

       For our friends lie there, buried along the way.  




Francis Meyrick







Last edited by Francis Meyrick on August 8, 2012, 7:37 pm
We little humans, hurtling through the Universe on our tiny, pale blue dot, will find few answers to Life's great mysteries. But we should at least find many of the questions. To write is to ask. To seek. To grope. With humility, and humor. Peace.
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