Francis Meyrick

A Blip on the Radar (Part 20) “Only the Idiots “

Posted on March 4, 2010

“End of the Dream ” for one of our mates…

Rick Faulkner commented on his photo:
“Moggy – your mate Cliff (Mech) survived this one, unfortunately the pilot was killed which is just a reminder to us all of the dangers we face day to day. “

A Blip on the Radar

Part 20: Only the Idiots… have got themselves killed

November 2009

With the posting of Chapters 3(H) ( “Descending to a Log “), 3(I) ( “Attaching a Radio buoy “) and 3 (H) -1 ( “Drawings “)
I’ve come a long way in editing my old notes. There’s more to come, but “Moggy’s Tunaboat helicopter Manual ” has -at last- taken on some Internet presence. The “Blip on the Radar ” series, intended to portray the more human side of (tuna) helicopter flying, now has eighteen installments so far. It doesn’t pretend to be hi-tech stuff, it’s rough and ready, off-the-cuff, and everywhere I make the same disclaimers:
* I don’t pretend to be the fount of all knowledge, the Great Arbiter of right and wrong.
* I really don’t remotely care if people disagree with me. You can safely bet they will. The purpose is to raise the issues,and get new tuna pilots thinking for themselves. Hopefully, if you go tuna fishing, you will one day have an amber caution light go off in your mind, and in good time. Before you start that dangerous game called “ad hoc, on the job learning “. That’s when you will thank yourself for taking the trouble to read my scribblings. That is when I hope you will mutter a quiet “Thank you, Moggy “, in which case I will be amply rewarded. And maybe, if you can send me an email, then I’ll feel mighty pleased. “Chuffed to bits “, as they say in Paddyland.
* There may well be different ways to skin a cat. The section on landing techniques is bound to annoy some, and infuriate others. Not a problem. Let me know where you disagree. But to have new pilots aware of the considerations, and thinking through scenarios before they go out there, that is my goal. And some fu-fu-free beer, of course.
* I’m well aware there is an organized character assassination against myself going on, for some years now, which appears to be designed to discourage new or prospective tuna pilots from ever reading Moggy’s Tuna Manual. Strange. No, I have never in my life (touch wood) wrecked a Tuna helicopter, any helicopter, or even scratched a helicopter. Who would think they might benefit from such a transparent smear campaign? It wouldn’t be those who are desperate for a job, desperate to be ‘approved of’, and desperate to be patted on the head by their Tuna Masters, would it? (wag, wag, wag that tail)
The Tuna helicopter Industry has, shall we say,some “issues “. I intend to publicize them. If you are willing to unquestioningly believe this Manual is not worth reading, based on somebody else’s say-so, then I have this to say to you, my friend:
(softly) “Fly Safe “.

In my little life, I’ve often enough sat in a bar, in strange, far flung parts of this confused world, quietly imbibing. Listening.
It suits me well to drift into a quiet little state. Preferably in a corner. Unobtrusive. After a while, people don’t take much notice of you. They think you’re stupid. Or tipsy. Or both. Hopefully.
Cigarette smoke curls up, glasses chink, and tongues wag. And after a while, you will see the real critter come out. The talkers, the extroverts, the comedians, and the angry men. The proud, the humble, the leaders, the followers. Occasionally, in places like Northern Ireland during the height of the troubles, or in seedy back street bars, late at night, in Hamburg, or Budapest, or Marseille, I’ve been truly worried about my own immediate safety. That’s when I’ve recognized danger.
Men with hate in their eyes. Unpredictable. Violently sectarian. You just hope that latent evil doesn’t suddenly find an excuse to turn against you. (Occasionally, it did.) (Maybe, another scribble, one day)
I can remember many times ordering another drink, acting nonchalant, and being saddened by the ugliness.
Men can be cruel. Unthinking. The mouth runneth over. I’m not a great admirer of the human race.

Pilots… are no exception. Just some more odd humans, who at some stage thought they would like to fly. I’ve listened to all sorts of fliers. Free fall fliers. Aerobatic fliers. Biplane fliers. Helicopter fliers.
Armchair fliers…
Oftentimes you can pick up good stuff. Guys who know what they are talking about. Then you can listen with enthusiasm.
And learn. But disappointingly frequently, you wonder how deep those dark waters are… That this Jesus is walking on…

Only Jesus walked on water; the rest of us dozy buggers sink like a limp…

I’m impressed with the interest there has been in Moggy’s Tunaboat Helicopter Manual, and I’m also impressed with the number of emails I’ve had from new helicopter pilots. Even from people considering helicopters as a career. I thought the manual would be of interest only to current tuna helicopter pilots and mechanics, or potential ones. Experience shows this not to be the case. All sorts of pilots with no intention of ever setting foot on a tuna boat, tell me they are enjoying this ongoing project. I remember thinking how cool it would be to have 100 ‘hits’ (downloads) for a story. The first time I saw that, I was quite impressed. Now, we’re probably just a step away from hitting the first ‘1000 downloads’ for a story.
Pilots, and non-pilots, are often thinking people.
Accordingly, I feel compelled to relay a strange experience I had, many years ago. It might perhaps give us all, helicopter pilots new and old, pause for thought.

We had a gentleman, who I shall call Dek, (not his real name) appointed to a position of responsibility in a certain tuna helicopter company. That company is no longer in business, and so to a degree, all this is therefore ancient history.
Dek was the ‘lead pilot’ if you like.
Well, on his watch, somebody got killed. That pilot crashed into the water, on take-off, and we were all shocked and upset.
I don’t know about Dek, but he never said anything much about it to me. I have no way of knowing how he reacted to this tragedy in his heart and mind. Maybe he was a silent type. I don’t know, and I don’t judge.
But this I do know, and I remember it clearly. I was upset about it. All the more so because I had sent serious warnings out about this pilot. And, come to discover afterwards, that pilot’s mechanic had also voiced serious concerns. The dead dude was a helluva nice guy. And a friend. That wasn’t the issue. It was his flying skills in the tuna environment that were. Both the mechanic and I were ignored. Not long after that, he was dead, the observer was very seriously injured, and the helicopter was a smashed wreck at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Yes, it hit so hard the floats burst…
He was killed during his very first take-off, ever, from a tuna boat.
He had received zero actual training onto or off a real tuna boat.

In the wake of this ‘pilot error’ fatal accident, and others, I sat down at my computer on my boat, and started burning the midnight candle night after night, painstakingly drafting up the outline of what was to become “Moggy’s Tuna Manual “.
I never had any idea of writing a book. It was envisaged as a free handout for tuna pilots. Just to help the new guys along.
That’s all. I had a printer on board, and after a couple of months, hundreds and hundreds of hours, I had a stack of notes and drafts printed off.
The ships came into port, and we ended up, as often happened, in a bar, with a bunch of pilots and mechanics sitting around shooting the breeze. I brought the draft along. In my own way, I was quite proud of what I’d done. And I meant well.
I showed it to Dek. Guess what happened…

Nothing. He wouldn’t even look at it. Zero interest. Just a dismissive, curt, wave of the hand. Go away.
I couldn’t understand. Here was a person in a position of responsibility, who had just lost a pilot under his ‘command’, and he didn’t give a hoot about another of his pilots trying to write a training manual? It didn’t make sense to me.
After the time and effort I’d put into it, frankly, I was a bit hurt. Maybe it showed.

There was bunch of us in that bar, and eventually our Great Leader departed. I was sitting there, quietly sipping my beer, looking at all these pages of notes, when a voice broke in:
“Didn’t give a shit, did he?’
It belonged to another pilot, a laid back, taciturn dude from the Mid West. He’d taken it all in.
I don’t remember what I said. I don’t think I said anything. This pilot, a very experienced Tuna Head, asked to see my notes.
Half an hour later, he was still reading them.
When he handed them back, he simply said:
“It’s good, Moggy. Very good. Keep at it. ”
That was all.
And guess what: I didn’t…. That negative experience somehow really cooled my ardour. It’s taken quite some years to really get cooking again. A lot of the old notes are up on this site, but there is more to come. I’ve just got to go and dig ’em out. They are somewhere. I think.

The reason I relate this seemingly insignificant, trivial event is this:
The psychology of helicopter pilots is complex. But one mindset is a recurrent one. The theme is… well traveled.
I have heard this said in different ways by different pilots.

“Only the idiots have got themselves killed… “

I am in fact staring at an email right now, in which a buddy is relaying to me hearing that exact comment.
Word for word.

He’s surprised. I’m not.
This comment was spoken by a certain Kiwi “Sky God “. A Master. A Great Teacher. A Guru.
The sort of guy who can influence the thinking, the mindset, the “attitude ” of a whole generation of new pilots.
He spoke (the drums rolled) on the subject of… tuna helicopter accidents. This speaker, with a plethora of followers and admirers it seems, a legend in his own lunch time, shall remain anonymous. I hope to meet the gentleman one day. We shall -perhaps- have a deep and meaningful discussion. I have a lot -for better or for worse- to say on this subject.

But first, let me take you to an interesting exchange on a website. The site is called “Bladeslappers “, and you’ll find it at
There is an interesting series of posts on tuna boats there. If you read through it, you’ll see “Big Eye Vet ” getting into it, and being challenged by “Freewheeling “. It gets a little heated.

First, there is this comment from “Big Eye Vet “:
If anybody is thinking of applying to Hansen for a job: ask these questions:
1) how many fatal accidents has your company had over the course of its history?
(it’s a LOT!)
2) are you still using those OLD, OLD, OLD C-18 engines Johnny Walker got cheap by the dumpster full?
2B) And WHY did you pull perfectly good C20B engines out of your aircraft and replace them with underpowered, unreliable C18’s?? That was the case a few years ago. It might have changed. Ask anyhow.
3) Are you comfortable landing on a slippery, rolling, heaving helideck?
4) Wait until there is fish in the net. Hanging over the port side. Now your deck will roll from side to side and really get your attention. Are you ready for this?
5) Your captain might be a grumpy old sod. Korean or Taiwanese. Some are good, some are bad, some are crazy, and don’t give a damn. Do NOT expect him to turn into wind for you, or slow down, or speed up, or help you at all. Some are GREAT. Some really don’t care. You MIGHT be on your own. Are you ready for this?
6) If you go in, don’t expect a coordinated search and rescue. You may be a 1000 miles offshore. Dream on. You are going to be relying on your buddies to find you. They might be a few days sailing time away. I’ve been on those searches. Never found anybody.
7) You have JUST landed, the deck is soaking wet, and the captain or the navigator sees fish off the port beam. He hauls on the helm, and the boat turns hard. The ship rolls over VERY hard. You start sliding. The edge of the deck is coming up. It has a lip, or a navigation light, or some obstacle. You whack the throttle open hard, pull power in a snarling snatch, and lift off frantically just in time to avoid a crash. Nobody apologizes. You sense their minds are on catching fish, and the helicopter is just a tool.A flying speedboat. Out there. Somewhere.
Are you ready for this?
Sorry, I don’t mean to sound like a grump, but it cracks me up to read this Bravo Sierra about “great opportunity for a young pilot “. It’s a great opportunity to get yourself killed. Unless you really know what you are doing.

Next, there is this comment from “Freewheeling “:

“….. I did six years on tuna boats and sure, you have problems now and then. But that is life. I had dramas with Hansens but I will stand by them. So ‘Big Eye Vet’ I think you should toughen up a bit, seems with a name like that you should well be experienced enough to handle a rolling ship.
So any newbies keen to give it a go, go, it is good for a young single bloke, 42K US dollars plus a 5K bonus for 12 months, with the Aussie dollar down so low you are almost doubling your money. You are also getting that valuable turbine time. But it is also an adventure. Don’t get me wrong, it is tough and challenging. Way better than flying tourists in circles getting dizzy. But do go with an open mind, you are living with little brown people. Just make it fun. “

The ‘bold’ comes from me. So why am I focusing your attention on the concept of being “tough “?
“Big Eye Vet ” got pretty mad at that, and here is his reply, and I’m inclined to think he lost the cool a bit there. I’m not sure if he’s reading a bit too much into what “Freewheeling ” had to say. But you can be the judge.

That has to be about the worst possible advice anybody could give new blokes looking at going into tuna helicopters.
It has NOTHING to do with being “tough “. You can be as tough as you like, it won’t stop you from getting killed, if you don’t know what you are up against. The rolling deck syndrome is only one of a whole host of potentially catastrophic situations. Many, many people have gotten killed.
Especially at Hansen helicopters….
Some were very “tough “,indeed. Especially between the ears. Others were just naive innocents, poorly prepared by Hansen, way out of their depth, and basically just an accident waiting to happen.

Prior to impact, this machine was flying low and fast over calm, misty water… one fatal

Phil McIvor: no it was compressor stall and the pilot thought the engine stopped so he plowed into the fence with the engine running, huge carpark infront and the ocean 300 feet below and behind…

Hansen staff by the way have often been quoted as saying they are not a helicopter school. As far as they are concerned, if you turn up with a commercial license, and you get the job, it’s up to you. It’s your risk. Nobody there will voluntarily release their truly massive and longstanding accident and fatality list. You’re just another sucker…
The rolling deck is compounded by the weight of fish hanging off the port side. The captain will not stop fishing just because you are flying. The day will come, that you return to the ship, with 20 minutes of fuel left. If there’s a 100 tons of fish hanging on the side, you need to be “thinking “, not resorting to being “tough “.
Consider that roll rates of a stationary vessel in rough seas will easily reach 15 to 18 degrees. The mass of fish being hauled in makes it worse. The ship will probably drift across the waves. That further aggravates the roll rate. The deck will be wet. Even if there is a rope, or a net, it will be greasy and slippery… be prepared for a go around at the last moment, EVEN IF YOU KNOW EXACTLY what you are doing.
Now we could have a whole new discussion about how you perform a safe landing. Suffice it to say, it’s not a normal “slope landing “. Not when the slope is moving and rolling erratically.
To pass it off, as a previous poster does, as just a matter of being “tough “, is -frankly – laughable.
Hmmmm….. Food for thought, eh?
In defense of Hansen helicopters, and I don’t like mentioning names by the way, you have to see at least a degree of logic in their attitude, widely known, that they are “not a helicopter school “. I don’t know the exact methodology they apply (or not) to check new pilots out. I imagine though they would be sympathetic if you asked to go out with somebody for a trip first. I’m sure you wouldn’t get paid, but with the permission of the captain, that would be a great learning experience.
It’s not uncommon at all in the tuna helicopter industry for a newbie to go out with a mentor. I’ve been able to mentor a few pilots myself, and that was a very interesting experience. In fact, I have a story in draft form about exactly that.
Then again,it’s also quite common that a pilot gets fired, or walks off the boat, and that the captain is screaming for a pilot right now. And then (as happened to me) your feet will barely touch the ground from the airplane, before you’re bouncing around on a ship. On your own….

But back to that “tough ” issue. That mindset. If you’re “tough ” you can handle it.
Question: Does your helicopter respect you because you are “tough “?
Question: Can you “tough ” your way onto a rolling deck?

Or does it take skill.
Knowledge. Patience.
Understanding the problems and risks.
Evaluating the situation. Study. Self Discipline.
Building up slowly?

And is Hansen’s well known philosophy, that if you have a commercial helicopter pilot’s license, you should be able to tackle Tuna Helicopter Flying, and if you can’t, and you get killed, well, it’s your own stupid fault, sunshine…

Is that a reasonable argument/defense against the bloodshed, in the final analysis?

Duh….?? What do YOU think? That is what matters. What do YOU think, my friend?

You ask: What do I think? Little Moi? The soft spoken one who beats about the bush and never calls excrement a frickin’ turd? Well, I say again, make up your own mind, and don’t pay any attention to me.

I think… NOT.
I think it is unreasonable,
short sighted,
borderline cruel,
it is unsupportive of inexperienced helicopter pilots, often enough only starting out in their careers,
and is,
in a word,


Worship of the golden buck, filthy lucre, profit, and to hell with anything else.

A convenient rationalisation. That, given the appalling accident rate, and persistent allegations of poor maintenance, long since no longer can possibly stand up to scrutiny.

A broken tail rotor control rod, surrounded by tell-tale metal debris; it didn’t just suddenly go ‘pop!’; routine inspection should have picked the imminent failure up well before it happened. Superb pilot skills landed this crippled bird back intact on the boat.

In the next few issues of “Blip on the Radar “, if I can rake up the fortitude, (because these are not cheerful memories), I might get around to scribbling some stories about some of my old flying buddies, who, according to SOME people’s philosophy, were just “idiots “, who got themselves killed chasing the Tuna Dragon.

They were not idiots.

They were feeling, thinking, emotional human beings, with girl friends, wives, and parents, who maybe lacked the experience and the GUIDANCE to be trying to do what they were trying to do. Who lacked any form of systemized tuna accident reports, or tuna safety alerts, (after thirty plus years of tuna helicopter flying) or tuna helicopter training manuals, because the employers carefully HIDE all the bad news.

Accident reports….
Safety alerts….


Now there’s a novel idea.


Francis Meyrick (c)

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on March 6, 2010, 1:16 pm

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