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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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Of Helicopters and Humans (22) "Sounds like a stupid thing to do"

Ah-ah! Do not sneer... It's way easier to do than you might think...


Of Helicopters and Humans

Part 22:  "Sounds like a stupid thing to do"


With a sigh I left someone dear
and floated off into the mist and fog
with oars bent for Loyang
and Kuangling's bells and treeline fading
this morning when we said goodbye
we wondered where we would next meet
in a world like a boat on the waves
rising and falling with no shore in sight


                         Wei Ying-wu   Chinese poet   A.D. 769


      A group of pilots were talking about a bad helicopter accident.
The pilot, the sole occupant, one of our brothers, had been killed. Everybody was shocked. I wanted to go to the funeral, but it was held as a private service. A shattered family.
The essential nub of the issue was that he had hit his rotor disc off a solid object. The side of a drilling rig.  That's a whole lot of steel. The helicopter had rotated violently into the water. And sunk almost immediately. Floats were not deployed. His body was later found still strapped in to his harness. Poor fellow.

      It was hard to figure out what had led up to the catastrophe. It often is. There was a lot of speculation. A lot of circumstantial evidence that pointed to some kind of distraction. Mental overload. Too much.
And it was about this accident that the little group was talking. I was listening, but not saying much. There was quite a bit of head shaking going on. Nobody seemed to be able to get a handle on it.
"Sounds like a stupid thing to do...", somebody said. He didn't mean it unkindly. It was more an expression of frustration.  A perplexed inability to even begin to understand what had led up to the momentary rotor-to-steel coupling.
I had known the young fellow involved. He wasn't stupid. Far from it. And with a young family, of which he was extremely proud, I knew full well that in his short life, he had already amassed much to care deeply about.  I found myself thinking back. Day dreaming.  I searched my memory banks. Long gone, but still around, shadows waved at me. I smiled and nodded. I remembered only too well...

*             *              *              *               *

       There was the time I called up one of my aerobatic buddies. I loved flying fixed wing aeros. I owned a biplane, A Stolp Starduster, and I was slowly becoming a world beating Flying Ace. I had already learned loops and rolls, hammerheads and Cuban eights. I flew a mean barrel roll, and my hesitation rolls were pretty crisp. I couldn't snap roll worth a cuss, and each attempt was a pot luck shot, but I was convinced I would soon be World Champion. Well, I was young and invincible. Hey, girl! Never mind his stupid etchings.
You wanna see my Lomcevak?
(Smack!)   (ouch!)   (What!?)

Now I knew this guy who I really admired. Good pilot. He had been a crop duster for years, and was way better than I was at aerobatics. I'd seen him slam a Pitts Special around the sky, and I wanted to be like him. One day. I decided to call him one evening, to see if he would like to meet up for some aeros the next day. We were both practicing for an upcoming Aerobatics Competition. His wife answered the phone. Nice lady.
"Hey! It's Francis!", I bellowed, in my usual cheerful, somewhat boisterous manner. "What's the Old Devil up to, and can I talk to him?"
In answer she burst into tears. I was shocked.
"He's dead", she sobbed, "He was killed yesterday..."  
Aerobatics… That one had me flabbergasted. I had seen him fly. Smooth. I looked up to him. He was way ahead of me in knowledge and expertise. Yet somehow, something, some sneaky gremlin, had caught up on him.  I spent  a long time thinking about that. Questions floated through my mind incessantly. What had happened? What could have caught such a seasoned pilot? Such a calm, disciplined, steady hand?  The question that bugged me the most however, was a simple one.

"Francis... what do you think that YOU know... that HE didn't...?"

It was really disconcerting for me. I knew that he had known much more than I did at that stage of learning. So by conclusion, how was I to know that I was safe? What concealed land mines, lying around, was I unwittingly hop-skipping past? Secure only in my innocence? Was I deluding myself?

       I think that event set me off in a particular direction. I was deeply shocked. I started reading. Everything I could lay my hands on. Every book on Aerobatics. I really enjoyed the books by Neil Williams. Both his descriptions of how to fly aerobatics, safely, and his many short stories. Neil Williams left an indelible impression on my emerging aviator's mind. Yet he too, had died in an aeroplane crash. With all HIS experience. That also had me thinking for a long time. What... were these causes of aviation accidents, that caught even the best and the brightest? And how could I, with my seven or eight hundred hours, avoid a similar fate?  It wasn't good enough to simply say, like my colleague "Sounds like a stupid thing to do" because I knew full well these were not stupid people. So... what? What the heck? How....?
To some degree, I've never changed in a certain regard. I've never lost the sheer joy of flying. The sheer love of smelling Jet A fumes in the morning. The tendency to want to giggle in mischievous delight, as the wheels or skids leave the ground first thing in the morning. Or better still, first take-off after a week off.
But I've also never changed in that other respect: I've personally known or met so many good pilots who subsequently crashed, or died, or bent metal in a manner embarrassing and humiliating. Dozens and dozens and dozens. Hundreds. Seriously. And I have this funny feeling, all the time, that there is this quiet conspiracy going on around me. Every day I fly a helicopter, it's as if there be Gremlins out there.  Muttering darkly amongst themselves:

"It's high time we nail that Irish guy. Him with the Big Mouth. He should be ripe for the taking. He's getting old and cocky. He's been lucky, but we'll get him yet..."

  There are times I wonder. How would the little Gremlin Bastards manage to catch me? Under what circumstance, in what scenario, would they out-think the old thinker? Out-fox Papa Foxtrot? That's hard to answer, 'cos after all, I'm a real good pilot. Forty-four years since I went solo. Borderline brilliant. Or? Maybe not?  Just average? Slightly... below... average? Complacent, even?

*            *            *              *               *


       It's been a long day in the Gulf of Mexico.
I don't want to admit it, but I'm hot and sticky. Getting tired. Maybe a little grumpy.


Five and half hours flying already. Forty seven take-offs. And forty seven landings. It's going to be a seven plus hour flying day. And it's the additional, unexpected hassle that gets to you. My Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) has been acting up like crazy. They are great assets when they work, and a real pain in the nether exhaust regions when they don't.  And we've been going to new, unfamiliar platforms. Our regular customer has bought another smaller Oil and Gas exploration company out, lock, stock and barrel. Unfortunately, they work on a different FM frequency, so I'm having to switch back and forth between them, and our own, regular Dispatcher. The FM radio, ergonomically speaking, is over to the far left, in front of the front seat passenger, and no less than five different buttons have to be selected, in exactly the right sequence, in order to achieve this frequency change. You have to lean over in an awkward manner, still flying the cyclic, and when the sun shines in at exactly the wrong angle, it's hard to see the digits. Real hard. Sometimes you miss, and then you have to start all over again. I also don't know the new platforms very well. I'm heading to one right now. When I get closer, I'm dismayed to see a large lift boat hard up against the platform.  A very large crane is close to the helideck. Supporting wire line operations. I fly a careful orbit. There is adequate clearance, but only a fraction over just enough. On my final approach, I will be heading into wind, and right at the big crane. It will loom high over me. On the left, there are smaller cranes, locked down, so they say, but still presenting obstacles to a go-around. There is also a lower working deck, with machinery everywhere. I would not want to over fly it if I could avoid it. On the right... the radio goes off, and now they are changing the plan again. Not again... Daylight is becoming an issue, and so is fuel. They are asking if I can pick up a man with an injured finger. The Dispatcher, sitting behind a comfortable desk, with platform numbers on a sheet of paper, rattles off information. And throws in passenger weights and bag weights. It's like somebody throwing ten long distance telephone numbers at you, in staccato monotone.  It's as if everybody assumes that the single pilot has a photographic memory of the Gulf of Mexico WAC chart in his mind's eye. And can instantly perform mathematical calculations involving weight, and fuel, and Time, and daylight, in a nano second, whilst flying an approach to a platform with a large crane looming overhead.  I do my best.

      I land on the deck, aware of the size of the crane looming overhead. I roll the throttle to idle, and give the passengers permission to exit. I am now handed a new manifest, for the departing crew. Five passengers. I will be doing quite a bit of typing for the next few minutes. And planning. Calculating. I could have done without that medical flight. We're pushing both daylight and fuel. And if only that damn EFB would quit acting up. I'm having to tap three or four times before a letter actually appears. I have a lot of letters  and numbers to add in, and this is going to take forever. I still have to plan, and make sure of my itinerary. And daylight. Oh, and that front is moving in from the West. I don't like the look of that either. The first drops of heavy rain are beginning to fall. Now the platform calls me. He says the Dispatcher wants to talk to me, urgently. I have to lean across and change FM frequency, again. The passenger getting in the front is a very large gentleman. He has trouble worming his way in, and nearly grabs the collective. My happiness factor is spiraling downwards. Mostly I enjoy my flying, but (his right elbow accidentally cops me firmly in the side of the head) (he is looking for his shoulder strap) this is one of those afternoon/evenings that I kind of wish... aw, shit! The EFB just tripped offline! What the heck...? Hold it.

       A few minutes later, I have briefed the passengers, including the one who has dumped a large Pelican case on the rear cabin floor. And won't secure it. He's looking out the window pretending  he can't hear me when I address him over the public address.  It needs to be secure, by law, in case we are upside down under water. We don't want to have loose objects impeding emergency underwater egress. I'm trying to enforce the rules which are designed for his own protection. For my reward, he cops an attitude. I cop one too. I'm polite, but this helicopter isn't going anywhere until little darling does as I say. Sweetheart. He complies, eventually, with a show of bad grace. Now, wearily, back to the show. I file my flight plan, or try to, and wait for it to go through. It takes for ages. It tries 5 times. Then it tells me the plan did not go through. Do I want it to try again? Yes or no? I select "No", and now I add to my memory cells the requirement that I must file a flight plan once airborne. In this area, our company comm center won't pick me up until I'm above 600 feet or so. I must not forget. How about daylight? Downtime? Can I get all this done...?
I'm in a hurry now. Damn EFB. Damn moron passenger in the back with his damn attitude. I am glad to be pulling pitch off this damn platform. Holy damn anyway.

I pull pitch for a side step take-off, like I have done a thousand times. We are heavy. I watch the torque carefully. The helicopter responds and we move up, and then sideways. Routine normality...

I have a split second sight of the flare boom rising from below to meet me. I pull collective frantically. It's too late. I feel the right skid contact violently. In a nano second, we roll over sideways. Sea and sky exchange places. Everything is wrong. A voice is screaming in my head. ALARM! ALARM! I'm confused and disorientated. Three terrifying seconds later, I am dead. Massive head trauma. And so are my five passengers.
I have become a statistic.
THE END.

*               *              *              *               *

     A group of pilots were talking about a bad helicopter accident.
The pilot, an old guy, and five passengers, had been killed. The essential nub of the issue was that he had hit his right skid off a solid object. The flare boom.  That's a whole lot of steel. The helicopter had rotated violently into the water. And sunk almost immediately. Floats were not deployed. The bodies were later found still strapped in their harnesses.
Poor fellows.
It was hard to figure out what had led up to the catastrophe. It often is. There was a lot of speculation. A lot of circumstantial evidence that pointed to some kind of distraction. Mental overload. Too much.

And it was about my accident that a certain little group was talking. I was listening, but not saying anything. My new circumstances did not permit such. There was quite a bit of head shaking going on. Nobody seemed to be able to get a handle on it.
"Sounds like a stupid thing to do...", somebody said. He didn't mean it unkindly. It was more an expression of frustration.  A perplexed inability to even begin to understand what had led up to the momentary, but cataclysmic,  skid-to-steel coupling.
I, a disembodied spirit, was hanging around, contemplating a great many things. I had places to go, things to do, other spirits to see. But I wasn't quite ready to move on yet. I was still in a degree of shock. Stunned.
I was also wondering, and worrying, if they would ever figure it out. Probably not. The essential accident factor was fatigue, coupled with haste. Hurrying.  And the fact that the flare boom was coincidentally neatly hidden by the window and door pillar. I had been in a rush, and never twisted in my seat to look around that stupid cockpit door pillar. Blind spot in the cockpit. They are there.
Simple. But it had killed me. And my passengers.

     I was very regretful, but there was nothing I could do about it now.  I was hoping that somebody would figure it out. And maybe warn other pilots about it. And remind people of how easy it is. It wasn't really a "stupid thing to do". It was a human thing. Very human. And if that door/window pillar could neatly hide a flare stack, imagine how easy it could hide a mast or an antenna. Which could also tip you over. In a heartbeat. Also hard to see, at certain times of the day, with the sun just-so.

     I wished I had been a better pilot. More humble. Maybe not so judgmental. Not so complacent. I wished I had realized, whenever I heard about accidents, the truth of the old saying.

I wished... I had understood that saying better, during my little life.

"There but for the Grace of God, go I..."




Francis Meyrick



  


Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 17, 2014, 10:26 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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