Posted on May 28, 2013
People make bad decisions. Even good people have bad days. Or just one bad moment.
Unfortunately, sometimes these split second decisions have life changing, long term consequences.
Mix the human spirit, in all its volatility and occasional dark confusion, with helicopters, and you get the possibility of unutterably tragic consequences. It is left to us who survive, to wonder and marvel at what was going through our fellow pilot’s mind in the moment leading up to his sudden, explosive departure from this mortal coil. After witnessing these tragedies, many of us climb back into our own flying machines somehow changed. Our love of flying, our love of Life itself, has not diminished. On the contrary, oftentimes we are strangely empowered. A feeling of deeper awareness, of both the extraordinary privilege of life, and the Fragility of our Human Existence. I have said it often.
Every day is a bonus.
Every day is a gift. I stared down a British soldier’s rifle when I was a young man in my early twenties. I knew I was going to die. Somehow, there was another morning. With the sun coming up, Life itself stirring, and I was able to exercise my senses once more. Sniffing in the morning dew, the smell of freshness, and Hope. Life itself, calling to me. I could see, and I could hear. I could touch. Taste. And always, that sixth sense…
People are people. What drove the young twenty three year old Sheriff’s Deputy to kill himself?
It was all over a lost girl friend??
I remember how we looked at each other, shaking our heads, we older guys, when the bad news came through. We all, partial cynics, defensively hard bitten, seemingly grumpy, more grizzled, weather beaten veterans of enough stupid shit in Life, to where any one of us could have said, in the quietness of his mind, comforting words. Had he only come to any one of us, he would have heard the same:
“Dude…! I know it’s hard, but there ARE more fish in the sea… every man has to go through unrequited love ONE TIME. That one-sided love, seemingly not reciprocated, hurts like the clappers… but only for a while. You too will be older and wiser…“
Any one of us could have delivered those lines, or a close variant thereon, with a sympathetic smile, and a heartfelt clap on the shoulders. It’s life, bro’. C’est la vie, mon cher. Tomorrow, the sun will come up. You will shiver perhaps in the lonely, early morning quiet, but the promise of a new day will breathe new life into you… coming for a beer afterwards?”
People are people. Again, what drove a successful professional, married with a family, to abandon all common sense and judgment?
The call came in to the Sheriff’s Hangar. Dispatch was getting an avalanche of 9-1-1 calls about a rogue helicopter. After I listened to the dispatcher, I was gob smacked. He’s doing… WHAT?
I ran out to the helicopter, fired up in a hurry, and ripped off towards the oncoming fiasco, the words of the dispatcher ringing in my ears.
“Francis, we’re getting a barrage of calls. There’s a helicopter coming down the Interstate from Las Vegas. He’s blasting along, flying flat out at twenty feet, above the hard shoulder, facing oncoming traffic. There’s cars scattering in all directions. He is going to cause a serious accident. He doesn’t seem to care… The Sheriff wants you to stop him, whatever it takes…”
I flew fast and low, and listened to the Police radio. Several Law Enforcement personnel were putting in reports, from their cars. None were mincing their words. A DPS State Trooper, and several of our own Deputies, were all shocked witnesses.
“He’s crazy! He’s going to cause an accident! This is not normal flying!”
“He’s flying alongside the telegraph wires! He’s at about twenty feet, over the hard shoulder.”
I flew on, wondering what the hell I was going to do. Stop him? Whatever it takes? How in tarnation am I going to do that? I wondered about just cutting him off. I was going as quickly as I could, and I was going to arrive at the Interstate ahead of him. I could park broadside on to him, exposing the letters “Sheriff” to the oncoming helicopter. But was he just going to politely pull over? Somehow, I doubted it. I was also more than a tad concerned about getting rammed in midair. I had to seriously doubt the other pilot’s mental state. For that reason I decided I would pull alongside, siren going, and gesticulate vigorously.
“PUT it DOWN, Buddy, Right NOW!”
And that way, if he swerved crazily directly at me, I would have speed and the ability to dodge him. Hopefully…
I flew on, listening in awe to the extraordinary radio calls and descriptions from frustrated law Enforcement personnel. Several times they would call me.
“Air One! How far out are you?”
“Errr… about fifteen minutes…”
“Air One! How far out are you?”
“Errrr…. ’bout ten minutes…”
Law Enforcement units were now attempting to pace the helicopter down the Freeway. Sirens and Lights going. But our brother pilot was seemingly not taking much notice.
There were reports of big rig truckers swerving violently. A serious situation was getting worse. You kind of know this is getting more ugly every minute. There is a strange awareness of imminent tragedy in the air. You just kind of get that feeling.
This ain’t going to end prettily.
I needed to get there, in a HURRY, and try and put a stop to this madness.
Ah! Rats. Too late.
The next report said it all.
“HE’S CRASHED! He hit the wires! Just south of Pierce Ferry Road! Roll everybody!”
The wires between those telegraph poles (that he was flying ALONGSIDE) occasionally CROSS the Interstate. Right? Yep, our friend flew smack into them. In an instant, a perfectly good helicopter was reduced to a mangled wreck, and two people ended their lives needlessly, just off the hard shoulder of the Southbound Lanes of the Interstate 93.
What was all that about? We heard bits and pieces, but it belongs to the realm of speculation and hearsay. All I know for a fact is what I saw and heard.
Years later, I was witness to a young commercial pilot, who impressed us all with his professionalism. He marched into the Manager’s Office, and coolly announced: “I am grounding myself, immediately.”
Eye brows. Raised. Duh… what?
“I just got a call from my wife. She wants a divorce. I have no business flying today with all that on my mind.”
He got a week off. Full pay. No issues, no comeback. Everybody was impressed. The way he handled that. Tight lipped, determined. Professional…
People are people. Rain is inevitable. Storms come and go. Some days suck. Some people suck.
But… Life is also full of Good People. Good things.
The quiet Dawn…
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on May 28, 2013, 2:36 pm