Cops & Robbers (7B) “A Deadly Search (Part 2) “
Posted on June 22, 2011
A Deadly Search (Part 2)
A Hidden Killer
Preoccupied as I was with what had happened, my mind was full of questions and self doubts. Could I have done better? Should I, could I, might I…? I was dumbfounded in a way, my usual bouncy confidence in the ability of the helicopter to work miracles for the Sheriff’s office had taken a huge blow.
Absently, I drank some more water, as I flew low over the desert.
It wasn’t until I was fifteen minutes out from home base, that I suddenly started feeling really ill. Up to that point I had felt sticky, tired, hot, sweaty… but just in the usual way. Nothing a guy can’t just “tough his way through “.
But now, all of a sudden… heck, I felt bad. Real bad. I grabbed for more water. Then I tried to focus my eyes ahead. Was it my imagination, or was the airport in the distance beginning to float in the air?
What’s wrong with you…?
I blinked, and shook myself. I was surprised how really bad I felt. Something told me to land, immediately. I looked down at the desert floor. That was not going to be good. Miles from anywhere. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. I could tell Dispatch I was in trouble, but what could they do? It wasn’t as if they could send the helicopter!
Now I was beginning to feel like my head was going to burst. I was sweating profusely, I felt clammy and cold, and yet boiling hot at the same time. Perspiration was running through my eyes. My hands were soaked.
Heat stroke! You’ve got heat stroke! Big time! Man, you’ve gotta land! Now! Before you pass out!
Now fear was clutching at me. I was truly alarmed. I could see the airport. Ten minutes away. Ten million miles. But I needed to land. I flew lower, and started to look for a suitable spot. I was struck by how far I would have to walk.
In this heat?
Alternatively, I could just call for help. Stay put. That would be the smart thing to do. They would just have to come and get me.
It’s gonna take hours…
They would need an off road vehicle to get to me. Again, I could be there for hours.
In this heat??? A hundred and ten plus…?
I was now mere minutes from Kingman Airport. But my head was thumping. Splitting. I dropped down to two hundred feet. Then a hundred. Then fifty. Ready to land in an instant. But a voice was screeching in my head. I was beyond alarm. I was close to panic. I had never, ever felt like this before. I grabbed for more water, but by now I was shaking, and I spilled most of it down my T-shirt.
Thumping headache… hot-cold sensation… Trembling… Soaking wet… perspiration… blurred vision…
Holy Cow, Francis… You could pass out here, any second… Land, man, land! Now! For Chrissake…
I was now down to twenty feet. The airfield was three minutes away. An eternity. A million miles. If I landed, they might not reach me for hours. I’d be out of sight amongst the rolling terrain features.
Land. Fly. Land. Fly. Three minutes. Die. Fly. Oh, God…
The voice in my mind was now almost hysterical. Either choice seemed extremely dangerous.
I was about to cross the three mile point, when I realized I had yet to make a radio call. To advise other traffic of my position. The croaked, feeble, borderline unintelligible voice that bleated pathetically across the airwaves shocked me.
In my mind I saw my approaching helicopter from the point of view of somebody standing on the ground. Rear suddenly up, up, and over, and then nose down, violently, and crash in a ball of flames. Black smoke, billowing up into the sky. Shocked faces. Sirens. People running. Fire engines screaming.
And forever, they would wonder, what the hell happened…
Normally I landed on the dolly, attached to the ATV. A small trailer, if you like. It made it easier to pull the machine into the hangar. But in my present state, that precision landing was out of the question. Instead, I set up a slow, shallow approach to the middle of the tarmac, and aimed for a slight run-on landing.
I was shaking like a leaf. It was all I could do to perform a basic, safe, run-of-the mill landing on a wide open space of concrete. The rear of the skids touched down, dragged the surface for a second, and then I settled heavily. It wasn’t pretty, but I didn’t care. The feeling of relief that engulfed me was intense. I realized, to my vague surprise, that I was hyper ventilating. My breath was coming in short, sharp gasps. Not good…
I shut down, and it was a relief to climb out of the machine. So much effort had gone in to the final fifteen minutes of flight, that I had formed no idea about what to do after the landing. I sat down, absently, on the skid rail, to rest and catch my thoughts. A few minutes passed by, and then a shadow fell over me. The fact that I was sitting out, most illogically, on the sun side of the aircraft, facing South, with the temperature hovering around one hundred and fifteen, had drawn the attention of the fuel truck driver. He was bending over me, very concerned.
“Are you all right?”
I swallowed, and thought hard.
“Errr… Well, I think I might have had a touch of heat exhaustion there, you know…”
His face, normally relaxed and friendly, was set to serious.
“Francis, you need to know your face is glowing bright red. Beet red. You’re having a heat stroke right now. You need to come with me – NOW – and get inside into the air conditioning. Do-you-understand-me?”
He spoke the words deliberately and slowly, as if he expected a protest. I, for my part, mildly surprised by the course of events, in a naive, muddled sort of way, vaguely figured out that he knew something I didn’t.
“Oh!”, I said. “Okay…”
I tried to get up, and promptly stumbled badly. He caught me, and helped me up into his truck.
A few minutes later, I was inside, in their wonderfully cool office. Several people were fussing around me, and I was profusely enjoying a mixed drink of 50% water and 50% Gatorade, with ice cubes. I was puzzled by their concern. They were talking about calling an ambulance.
An ambulance? That’s silly…
It took me about fifteen minutes before I started feeling any better, and thinking in a more lucid manner. They made me sip constantly.
After an hour, I felt great. Almost back to normal. Almost bouncy again.
It was then that I started to really understand the serious pickle I had unwittingly gotten myself into. The kind staff at Kingman Aero Services, with their long experience of scorching hot days in Arizona, explained to me carefully (in words of not more than two syllables), that all my water drinking had literally flushed out all my body salts. Potassium, and all that good (essential) stuff. The more I drank just water, the worse I was compounding my problems. The key is to realize that water alone is not enough. Not when it gets that hot. You HAVE to mix it with Gatorade, or Powerade, to keep your Potassium and body salts up to the proper level…
In retrospect, I was exhibiting classic symptoms of confusion due to heat stroke. The muddled decision making, culminating in calmly sitting down on the SUN side of the aircraft, made me wonder how long I would have been sitting there, if my refueller friend had not come along.
His description of my state, the violent red flushing, the confusion, and the difficulty walking, made me realize that I had been very, very stupid, and very, very lucky.
It was a hard lesson learned. But one, I wish to pass forward.
This true story, unexaggerated, (believe me), hopefully accomplishes just that…
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on August 31, 2012, 10:28 am