04 January 2013


The wind was VERY high when I landed to refuel at our base...
So high I didn't want to try to turn my tail into it in order to position the aircraft on the pad normally.
Nose pointed into the wind I landed, secured the aircraft, got out to see how much room I still had between hangar and tail-feathers, then buckled myself back into the aircraft to move it backwards another three feet so the fuel hose would be able to reach my fuel tank.
I then got out of the helicopter again and started to take the shortest route to the fuel pump...
Through the (nearly invisible) tail rotor.
Encounters with a helicopter tail rotor are violent, bloody, and almost universally fatal.
I was within two feet of being sliced and diced when I stopped short and realized my familiarity with this complex machine had almost ended in disaster.

Virtually everyone I know is fascinated by helicopters. I've now been flying them for 45 years, yet when I hear the sound of one approaching I will, if possible, drop what I'm doing and race outside to identify the machine and watch it pass... fascinated.
Just doing what they normally do, they are amazing.
And we who use them all the time are as familiar and comfortable with them as you are with your car.

Forty-five years of flying helicopters...
More than 26 of those years have been spent flying in the EMS role.
I spend more time with a cyclic in my right hand than I do with a steering wheel in both.
So you may understand how easy it is for me to say I've never considered my job really dangerous.
I've done it almost half my life now.
I do it well.
I take the inherent dangers in stride and accept them as part of the job.

And then LIFE slaps you in the face, and you get reminded that being more than a few feet off the ground isn't normal.
Moving across that firmament at 150 miles per hour isn't something humans were designed to do.
Flying high above the ground at 150 miles per hour, in the dark of night, with uncertain weather outside that complex aircraft can begin to be overwhelming.
So, now and then, aircraft and terra-firma come together violently.
And the rest of us in aviation take note, try to learn why, and continue to do the job.

When it hits close to home, it's SO HARD.
When you hear they are all gone and realize you have shaken that hand, seen that smile, shared a story or two about mutual acquaintances, it's SO HARD.

We lost two aircraft this week.
Thankfully one of the accidents, although serious, wasn't fatal.
But the other took the lives of three good people... three folks taking what they felt were acceptable risks necessary to help others.
And they're all gone.
One of 'em, the pilot, was someone I had smiled with, shared stories with, knew to be a good guy.
Losing anyone in one of these accidents is tragic.
But knowing you will never again see that smile is an emotional blow that's like losing family.

They died trying to help others.
They knew being high above the ground going 150 miles per hour entailed risk.
And one of my hopes is, when we learn what happened here, the rest of us will be able to walk out, start the helicopter, and do the job more safely, remembering these wonderful, caring people.

Rest in peace, Med-Trans.
I'm glad I can remember the smiles.


Scotty said...

I am really sorry for your loss. Sometimes it seems as if the pain will never leave.....sometimes it never does.

CJ said...

Such a tragedy, GB.

You know, as well as I, God is holding them in the hollow of His hand.

You guys are modern day angels and we're lucky to have you.


Rita said...

I'm sorry about your friends. I remember probably over thirty years ago a med vac helicopter was starting up at Greenwood's regional airport and I believe it was the lady who did exactly what you did, but she didn't stop in time. As if that wasn't tragic enough, the airport called the local ambulance service which was sadly her family's service. At the time of the call (pre-911) they didn't know they were calling her own family to the scene.

Old NFO said...

Thoughts and prayers GB, and thanks again for doing that job. God Bless.

lotta joy said...

And YOU nearly joined them by momentarily forgetting about the tail rotor!! The horror of such a near miss, then the extra horror of realizing it would have been from a stupid mistake.

Those people who died.... I'm sorry you will never see the one again, and I'm sorry you never met the others.

When Stud knew it was time to retire, he started feeling fear for the first time. Fear he would make the first mistake of his life and lose one of his men because of HIS actions.

Maybe you're feeling your own mortality more than usual for a reason. Please remember where the tail rotor is next time.

Ed Bonderenka said...

Not to lessen the impact of what you said, and frankly I thank you for your courage and skills and those of all the EMS community (which I've had to call on far too frequently).
Familiarity is dangerous in a number of trades, be they stamping presses, robotic cells, fishing, etc.
Taking that curve leaned over and seeing the spilled gravel on the road.
It really is an eye opener to find yourself within inches of harm and coming to that sudden realization that you are not immortal.

Gaffer said...

Well said and a fine tribute to those who are lost in service so others may live.

cary said...

Words cannot express enough for your loss, or for the loss of the community that is EMS.

Please know that we (my family and I) are praying for you all.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Very sad situation. My condolences.

Question: what craft do you fly and is the tail rotor and blades completely exposed or enclosed?


Greybeard said...

The bird I fly NOW looks like this, BZ.

The bird I was flying when I almost walked into the tail rotor (years ago) was a Bell LongRanger.

On level ground, you have to be 6' tall or better to worry about contacting the tail rotor on the BK.

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

That looks like an MBB? And the tail looks kinda high. But yes, I know how your mind can get set on Cruise until, a moment later, you focus back in.

Luckily you did it soon enough.