30 June 2008

How Does This Happen?

At this time I'm hearing 7 dead and 3 injured. A daylight Mid-air collision? What in the world is going on?

Now we're hearing there are 6 dead. One of the flight nurses is alive but critically injured. Two folks that were on the ground trying to help were hurt when something on one of the helicopters exploded. All this is gleaned from News reports and, like the initial report of 7 dead, should be taken with a grain of salt.

But the question remains... how does this happen?
I'm always claustrophobic when I get into an airplane. How in Hell can you be safe in something going that fast if you cannot see out of it?!! I'm just amazed when I climb into the cockpit of an airliner and see the tiny windows on those things... an airplane designed to go 600 miles an hour or so. It's a credit to all airplane pilots we don't have more airplane to airplane Mid-air collisions than we do!

But helicopters...
Most are designed to be like sitting on your front porch while your front porch is zipping along at 1500 feet of altitude. And in a helicopter, you have the added benefit of being able to see THROUGH THE WING! Most even have little "chin bubble" windows in the floor to look through! We chopper folks can see almost everywhere out of our machines!

So how do two helicopters find a way to collide, during daylight hours, in Flagstaff, AZ. where the visibility was probably 200 miles?
It's mind boggling.

Let me try to suggest a scenario:
I don't think they were headed back to the hospital from the same scene... they'd have been aware of, and looking out for one another if that were the case. So here you have two helicopter pilots headed to the hospital in Flagstaff, both thinking they are the only flying thing around for several miles, totally unconcerned about watching out for one another. They are from different helicopter EMS services, so they aren't talking to the same dispatchers. In the middle of Northern Arizona they likely weren't talking on a common "Unicom" frequency announcing their position to other helicopters, 'cause they didn't think anyone else was out there. Does the hospital in Flagstaff answer their radio when called? If it becomes generally recognized a hospital won't answer you when called, my crews will forego that call if they have their hands full caring for a patient.

Then add to this that med-crew eyes were all inside the aircraft doing patient care, and what do you have? Two sets of eyes looking outside the aircraft... the two pilots. That's fine if they are truly looking, which they obviously would have been if they both knew the other aircraft was out there somewhere. I don't think they knew to look.

I've been flying EMS since 1986. There was explosive growth in the industry in 1987, and we, as an industry, had a horrific year accident-wise. Pilots just starting to do a job they were unsure of, some flying unfamiliar equipment, many flying at night without much night familiarity, and competition with other companies suggesting flight in unsuitable weather conditions. 1987 was a terrible year with lots of fatalities. This year is shaping up to be worse.

So what's the solution?
Let me make you a wager...
The FAA is gonna feel pressure to do SOMETHING. And one of the things they'll consider is a device called a "Collision avoidance system". It's another neat electronic instrument to warn pilots of impending danger, and in some situations it has value. But it's another thing that distracts the pilot's attention and forces him to look INSIDE the cockpit rather than OUTSIDE where he should be looking to avoid another whirling set of rotor blades.
I think the emphasis should be on more communication, and more "head on a swivel" outside the cockpit surveying.

So now we wait for information on the "links of the chain"... those things that had to align for this accident to happen. Then we'll wait and see what remedial action is suggested/forced upon operators to try to avoid something similar in the future.

I'm gettin' old.
I've seen too much of this.
My heart aches.

A good report of the accident here.

29 June 2008

What Is That?

I'm looking for geese, and this ain't geese.
But something is swimming pretty forcefully across the lake below me. The lake is about 300 feet wide, and whatever it is I'm looking at has already made it more than halfway to the other bank.
Is it a deer? I've seen deer swimming before.
Despite being equipped with just about the spindliest legs on the face of the earth, they are very strong swimmers.
From 500 feet above the surface I push the collective down and start a descending, decelerating arc to satisfy my curiosity. Pretty quickly I realize it's not a deer, but what the heck is it?
Into the wind, continuing to slow and descend, I see it's not one thing, but several... an aquatic parade of sorts. In the lead is a VERY large raccoon. In his wake, apparently as curious about his proceedings as me, are six ducklings, still too young to fly. Where is Momma duck?
My approach spooks the ducklings and they abandon the parade for safer territory, but the big raccoon continues his powerful swim to the opposite side. I'm in a very dangerous spot... hovering fifteen feet above the water, but I'd like to have a picture of this spectacle to share with you. I apply friction to the collective and reach for my camera pack. The helicopter descends a little toward the water, so I pull the collective up a little and take the camera out of it's holster and set it on the seat next to me, then push the collective down again to get closer to the swimming raccoon. I grab the camera and push the "power" button. The zoom lens pops out and I'm ready to shoot the picture. I once again set the camera on the seat next to me, then readjust the controls, take my left hand off the collective, grab the camera again. This is risky stuff. Obviously I have to shoot this picture one-handed... left handed. I point the camera and push the button, and the camera turns off.
After all that trouble, I've pushed the power button again instead of the shutter. The raccoon reaches the bank and disappears into the brush without even glancing back at me.

You'd have enjoyed the picture.

22 June 2008

Reunion Review

I have no idea where Larry is. This is not a huge hotel and he's aware I'm headed his way, so I'm assuming he'll be mingling with the crowd, watching for me. It's fun poking my head into this room, then that one, hoping to catch him chatting with friends.

The crowd is typical for these events...
Gray headed old men everywhere, some walking with the help of canes since the late '60's- early '70's. Like me, almost all are wearing some item of clothing indicating service in Viet Nam. My "Go to Hell" hat with Aviator's wings and Americal Division patch is goofy looking to those in the hotel not attending this reunion, but fits right in with attendees. More than half these guys have their Wives alongside. These gals are extraordinary... all proudly wear necklaces with badges identifying them as reunion attendees, and most also wear reunion patches, pins, or other related paraphenalia. These Wives suffered while their warriors were away from home and at risk. This is not their first reunion so they have heard many, many stories of heroism and selflessness. DO NOT "poke the bear"... get into a discussion about what it takes to preserve freedom with these gals... they will disembowel you before you know you've even been wounded!

I've stuck my head into a couple meeting rooms and wandered around the lobby for 10 minutes or so, and I'm just about to pull out my cell phone and dial him when Larry shouts from the entrance to one of the restaurants. Together we order appetizers and share news.

On the main reunion floor there is a large dining room that is also being used as the principle meeting room. Several hundred attendees are scattered about, chatting in groups of five or six each. Logos and banners outside smaller conference rooms designate meeting places for individual units. Other rooms are reserved for vendors, selling unit patches, pins, books, posters and other memorabilia. We wander into one of these rooms and I immediately notice a familiar unit crest...
The 71st Assault Helicopter Company was located South of where I lived at Chu Lai, and we Warlords frequently flew missions alongside the Rattlers and Firebirds. I shake hands with Paul Bartlett and find we have friends in common. When I mention Captain Herb Crosby,
I notice Paul involuntarily catch a breath.
I've hit a nerve.

When Paul found out there would be a memorial service at Arlington when Captain Crosby's remains were returned, he wanted to do something special for Herb's family. You can see the plaque he made to present to Herb's Mom here.
The story about the POW/MIA bracelet you see on that plaque is touching-

Paul wanted a POW/MIA bracelet with Capt. Crosby's name on it to install on the plaque. He "googled" POW/MIA bracelets and
Liz Flick's website was the first to come up. Paul called the number there and when Liz answered, he said he had a special request...
"I need a bracelet with a specific name... Capt. Herb Crosby."
Liz was taken aback...
"I've been wearing Herb's bracelet on my arm for over 30 years!" When Paul explained what he wanted to do, Liz insisted he take her bracelet for the memorial plaque.
And one more irony...
Liz had shown the bracelet on her arm to Herb's Mother when they both had attended a memorial some years earlier!
Needless to say, before Paul had finished the story of making the plaque, I was in tears and he was fighting them back.

Larry and I visited as we walked around, and I found a pin with four Hueys in formation that had my name on it. I bought it, then it was time for dinner... back to the big meeting room.

Gunner Steve and his wife appeared and sat with us. Steve has had health problems over the last few years, but I was heartened to see him smiling and in apparent good health. We caught up on the latest news, then the three of us started challenging one another to see who could come up with the most innocuous memory.
I think Steve won with the "Cobra incident"... the time one of our pilots snagged the left skid of a Cobra on an immovable object, ripping the skid off so we had to build a temporary "kickstand" for the Snake to land on for repairs to be made.

(No, it wasn't me that did it!)

I was disappointed to find no other familiar faces in the crowd, but we are all brothers and I left the reunion having made new friends, with a few business cards in my pocket.
Tears, smiles, and memories made new...
I left the Hotel looking forward to the next reunion.

To Those That Pray-

We received word from our "extended family" today that one of their's needs our prayers.
He was burned over 60% of his body in a refueling accident in Iraq. That's all we know so far, except that his airway was compromised, and that makes his case mighty serious. So if you are inclined, a short prayer for him and the rest of our heroes is appreciated.

It's an odd sort of coincidence for me... my last flight yesterday was to carry a bad burn patient to the Burn Center, and just this morning I had finished reading the extraordinary story of
Sgt. Merlin German. Unfamiliar with Sgt. German? Have hankies ready before you start reading!

Thank God such young men exist!

21 June 2008


Ever have something pop into your head and stay there, driving you crazy until something else pops in to replace it?
That's the "pop-in" of the day!
I don't know anyone named Cornblatt. I can't remember anyone mentioning the name or hearing a news story where anyone named Cornblatt set a world's record standing on one leg.

I need a new thought.

20 June 2008


How much time do we devote to the past?
I'm about to head out the door to attend a reunion with a couple old friends... a Crew Chief and Gunner from my unit in Viet Nam. It's almost forty years since we were together in Chu Lai, Viet Nam. Barely out of our teens, we were boys doing men's work.

We've tried to stay in touch over the years, via email and too infrequent meetings. Obviously, our lives have taken different directions and it's interesting to chat about how our experiences back then have impacted our lives since. And it's there that we have a bond...
For all of us, the Viet Nam experience was the foundation for much of what followed in our lives.

I avoided these reunions for years, worrying that to attend would be "living in the past", denying myself the therapy I'd receive by seeing those years through the eyes of others. Talking with these brothers-in-arms rekindles memories of those days, and hearing others sharing their experiences of tense moments helps illuminate the "whys" of those experiences. It's also good therapy hearing we all had similar experiences adjusting to normal life upon our return home.

Summer is reunion season, and many contemporaries will be meeting and sharing, doin' a little "living in the past".
Remember, it's therapy...
Good for the soul.

18 June 2008

Ummm, I Gotta Ask...

He was ingested.
So I want to know...
Does this accident dice him like a wood chipper?

"Trauma Naked"

Go RIGHT NOW and read this.
Some of you won't understand some of it... (I didn't.)
Doesn't matter. It's good. Read it.

14 June 2008

"So ignorance is OK, David? "

Yeah, unfortunately, all too often ignorance is just fine...
Look at what the Supreme Court did this week.

The title comes from a post at Tigerhawk.
If you aren't ignorant, (or if you are but would rather not be), go, and read all the comments too.

12 June 2008

Coanda Effect

Look Ma! No tail rotor! (Notar)

Made possible by Coanda effect. (Actually, I believe it's just magic.)

11 June 2008

Will It Be Lieberman?

He's already having trouble with staunch Conservatives, so it won't really hurt him with that bloc of voters. He's obviously actively courting Hillary supporters, who have been leaning his direction anyway.
Obama's support from extremist Islamic groups and some of his pre-AIPAC comments have Jewish voters suspicious of him. Selecting Lieberman would attract a VERY LARGE group of people dissatisfied with the status quo. I personally don't care, 'cause Mac ain't my guy anyway. But this ticket would be VERY powerful!

So what do ya think...
Will he tag Lieberman, and if he does, will Lieberman accept?

(And interestingly, wouldn't that make Lieberman the first man to run as V.P. on both tickets?)

Will tapping him even be necessary?

Obama & Associates, Part Deux!

Idea for the video shamelessly stolen from ThirdWaveDave.

BHO's Big Problem

I'm seeing others comment on it more and more, and I think in the long run it will be his biggest problem...
The war in Iraq.

I may be the biggest idiot on the face of the earth, but I've lived 61 years and I've learned to pay "attention to details".
I wish I could place a bet on my gut feeling...

History will prove this war was necessary.
Hussein had those WMD's, we know that. Our intelligence on them may have been faulty, but I find it hard to believe the intelligence community as a whole was wrong on the issue. So the question is, what happened to those weapons?
The best guess I've seen relates to all those Russian trucks that were seen outside the facility in Al-Qagaa.
If you come here and read comments, you know others disagree. the most vocal of those are 20 somethings... intelligent, idealistic, but naive (or refusing to pay attention to detail) about history and politics in general. (I realize they may still be proven correct, but they are still naive.)

So here is Obama's problem as I see it:
Most folks in my circle agree with me. I have NO WAY of quantifying how many people that amounts to, but it's a bunch. I don't think BHO can win without considerable support from these folks. BHO is gonna have to move in such a way that this chunk of voters are comfortable with how he'll handle the war after the election. To get that support he'll have to make a major change in his rhetoric, and doing so, he'll alienate the naive 20-somethings presently swooning over his wonderful "changiness".

The creaking sound you hear is the stress being subjected to the Democrat party, and if you're paying attention you can already see fissures starting to separate him from voters he needs. He finds himself in "Catch-22"...
His present position is untenable. It'll be interesting to watch how he squirms over the next months, and how the MSM and his followers react to the change he has to make.

Let's see if he's the brilliant politician the swooners believe he is.

10 June 2008

Transporting Patients By Helicopter

It's a discussion that needs to be held.
What constitutes "sick enough" to warrant calling a helicopter to transport a patient to a tertiary care center? What matrix is used to determine if the time saved is worth the safety risk, not to mention the extra cost?

Too many lives have been lost. It's past time to have that discussion.

09 June 2008

Obama & Associates

Yeah, yeah... "Words have meaning".
That one has already come back to bite him, but of course he was "tired". (He'll be even more tired later, and it should be fun to watch.)

And "Birds of a feather flock together".
That one is beginning to nibble now too. If you can hold your nose long enough to be educated in spite of the stink, go now to Marathon Pundit, where Obama neighbor John has a permanent clip attached to his nose and is keeping a close watch on the Messiah.
Thanks John. I'm glad someone is doin' it!

More Family Deaths

It's been a bad year in the EMS helicopter community. I wish I knew what causes accidents to come in spurts sometimes. The year after I started flying EMS, 1987, was the worst ever because of the explosion of program startups. This year has started off ugly.
I didn't share it with you at the time, but last month we lost three caring people in Wisconsin.

Today I'm reading about another terrible loss.

These accidents are almost always associated with bad weather or nighttime operations, or both.
I wish I had a magic wand...

07 June 2008

I Need Your Help Again!

Take a look at the post and comments below, then come back and explain something to me.
Since Chimpy McHitlerBush has been President, the opposition has been chanting loud and long about "Loss of Freedoms!"

Can someone please explain to me why we are now ready to surrender extraordinary freedoms to someone who, by the way, has
little real-life experience, and ABSOLUTELY NO Executive experience whatsoever?

What car you drive.
How comfortable you can be in your home.
How much, and maybe what... you can eat!

Where the Hell are we headed?
(That's rhetorical, no need to answer 'cause I've read about this kind of behavior in my history books!)

06 June 2008


Global warming(?!).
Energy shortages.
Water shortages.
Food shortages.

How long before everyone begins to realize and talk about the real problem here?
Too many people on this sphere...
Too many people pursuing too few resources.

Since it's obvious nothing will be done about the problem until Mother Nature intervenes, I'm gonna start now trying to figure out how to profit from the coming disaster.

04 June 2008

Doin' What's Necessary

"Well, that was harder than I expected!"

The call was to meet an ambulance carrying a 6 month old female in respiratory distress. We launch, and when I plug the coordinates into the GPS, I inform our dispatchers of our 14 minute ETA.

"Your ground contact will be County 7201 on Fire/Mutual Aid."

I spin the dial on my magic Wulfsberg radio so that I can talk on the proper frequency...
"County 7201 this is ***** 3, over."
"This is 7201, go ahead."
"Gotcha loud and clear 7201. We're 8 minutes from your location, and we'd like a patient update at your convenience, please."
"Roger that. Your patient is a 6 month old female, born with a heart defect. She has had three major surgeries, one of them a week ago. She is having breathing problems due to congenital heart failure."
"Okay, we got that. What ya got for a landing area for me?"
"We want you to land on the Interstate overpass between the ambulance and the pumper."
"Roger that. See ya in about 6 minutes."

We arrive over the scene and it looks safe... the only wires are far enough away to not be a factor. Landing on the centerline of the overpass gives me plenty of room on both sides of the helicopter. There is a traffic warning sign near the end of the overpass that I need to avoid.

"Okay crew, I'm gonna shoot a steep approach to the South, and the last 50 feet will be vertical. Heads on a swivel... shout if you see anything."
(Our S.O.P. for landings is for any crew member to say "STOP!, STOP!, STOP!" over the intercom if they see a danger, so I can abort the landing and discuss the problem afterwards.)

Traffic is obviously stopped by the emergency equipment. I come to a hover 50 feet over the centerline of the overpass and gently start my descent. About 5 feet above the pavement the helicopter starts a gentle pendular action beneath the rotor system. As I further descend the swaying worsens. My rotorwash is being reflected off the three-and-a-half foot walls of the overpass and is affecting the cushion of air the helicopter normally builds up as it lands from a hover. I have my hands full. The trick is to make small amplitude, quick cyclic corrections to stabilize the helicopter. I continue the descent, working harder and harder as we approach the pavement.
"Well, that was harder than I expected! We're on the ground."
The crew won't make a move until I let them know I have ceased maneuvering. With the knowledge that I have done my part they exit the aircraft and get to the business at hand... getting this baby the help she needs.

There are exit/entrance ramps off the Interstate highway at each end of this overpass. We begin to gather an audience... folks stopped because they can't make it across the blocked overpass, and folks interested in the activity around the helicopter and all the emergency vehicles. Within 10 minutes there are 20 or so cars and trucks waiting and watching, everyone out of their vehicles to get a better view. (I don't blame them. I'm still fascinated by helicopters and will stop and stare, even after 41 years!)
The scene commander approaches and shakes my hand. He knows this little girl and her family, and he's happy to have our help.

My crew gets out of the ambulance and approaches the helicopter. They need no help from the ground personnel to load this little one... she weighs all of 15 pounds. Their delay in the ambulance was because they had to "tube" her... insert a breathing tube down her throat to make sure she gets enough oxygen during our 17 minute flight to the Children's Hospital. I'm proud of my crew... "tubing" a baby this size scares many EMS workers. I work with REAL pros!

My takeoff and the landing at Children's Hospital are uneventful.
It's my fourth flight of the day, and at the end of the day I have accrued 4.1 hours in the air during my twelve hour shift.

When I get home, my bed feels wonderful.
I'm asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow.