Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (17) “Fire in the Hole ! “

Posted on June 22, 2013

Of Helicopters and Humans

Part 17: Fire in the Hole!

I was flying, off the coast of West Africa, quite happily, minding my own business. I was on my own, playing with the giants, as my friend Eric calls it, sailing past tall fingers of cumulus clouds, enjoying the sun, the blue, the visibility, and Life itself. Just a routine cargo flight.
Suddenly, the call came in, breathless…

“Urgent Medevac! Divert immediately to Gas Condensate Bulk Carrier XXX…”

Oh, okay…
Obediently I swung around onto the new heading, busying myself with radios and frequencies. I got hold of the huge carrier, more of a massive floating refinery, and received a “Green Deck” clearance from an excited African gentleman. We termed them “Nationals”.
As I turned onto finals, an ex pat came up on frequency, with the unmistakable edge of authority.

“Good morning, captain. After you land, go ahead and shut her down. Then come on down to the sick bay. We have a bit of a situation here…”

It didn’t sound too good. Obediently I shut down, tied down a blade, and walked downstairs to see what was going on. Soon I encountered Nationals flying in all directions. Some wore life jackets, and some did not. Some were shouting in broken English, but most were panicking in their own native language. Seeing as we were sitting on a gas condensate carrier, basically a very large, floating bomb, I felt that surge of disquiet. I had left my life jacket up in the helicopter. I debated turning around to go and fetch it.
Why had they told me to shut down? Weird.

I made my way to the sick bay, past a flowing chaos. Phones were ringing, claxons were going off, people would run this way. Then back again. Then repeat the whole process. Should I even have been down there? I had this mental pictures of huge (massive) storage areas of liquefied gas, surrounded by hundreds of miles of cables and electrical conduit. And excited Nationals. I just hoped the welders with the blow torches, the electricians with their power tools, the sleepyhead with his cigarette, KNEW what the hell they were doing. Uncomfortable. Big Boom. And me in the middle of it? That would take some explaining to Mama. “Well, dear, I went down into the middle of this three mile long five hundred and fifty thousand ton gas bulk carrier/processing plant, and it blew up. But I wasn’t worried, because I know the devil doesn’t want me…”
More sirens. They would go on. Off. Back on again. What a mess.
Bugger this. I’m going back to the helideck…


A large ex-pat, Californian, genial guy, came over, shook my hand and introduced himself. He was the person I had spoken to on the radio. I wasted no time in explaining to him my discomfort.
“Errr… Sir, I’m a little uncomfortable here.”
(three Nationals came running past in Fireman’s clothing. Two with a helmet on, one without)
“Why is that…?”, my newfound guide asked, all laid back, smiling, his eyebrows raised quizzically.
(another National, big heavy set guy,jumped out at the fireman trio, and berated them furiously in some extraordinary language.)
“Well..”, I said, “I kind of feel I’m hiking around inside a floating bomb here, and, pardon me for saying this, but…”
(one of the Nationals, the one without the helmet, got turned around by the big National, presumably a Supervisor, and was now running frantically back towards us)
I continued. “Things don’t seem to be quite totally under control.”
(the No Helmet National was now coming past us at a fast gallop, eyes wide, with seemingly a lot of the whites of his eyeballs exposed.)
My Californian buddy just smiled. “Captain, I can as-sure you… there is no problem! None at all.”
(No Helmet had now disappeared around the corner.) (Sirens, yelling)
I coughed. Before I could formulate a suitable,polite, demurring remark, just a slight expression of doubt, No Helmet appeared again, this time WITH his helmet, which he was trying to put on whilst he was running.
I opened my mouth to say something, then changed my mind.
“Just follow me, Captain!” California seemed jovial, almost happy.
Like a lamb, I followed him, trying to suppress vivid mental images of Big Boom and lots of Colorful Flames and Toxic Black Billowing Smoke, and me in the middle of it all. We were just about to go through a doorway, when there was a terrifying crash behind us. We both looked around in time to see No Helmet sitting on the floor, opposite another National also sitting on the floor. They were facing each other. Legs towards each other, boots almost touching. I couldn’t see the expression on No Helmet’s face, but the other Emergency Responder looked decidedly dazed. I formed a vague impression that there had been a terrible collision.

I continued to follow California, and I was surprised how cool and confident he was. Bouncy. You would almost get the impression he was enjoying himself. He was just a little TOO damn self assured. Personally, I was beginning to seriously doubt my own sanity. I had no business being down there.
We arrived at the sick bay. Walking in, we immediately saw a young National, maybe late twenties, reclined on a medical couch, with a ghastly expression. He was surrounded by medical staff, and one of them was urgently talking to him. An impressive array of hi-tech Medical Equipment stood guard in immediate readiness. Heart monitors, all sorts of gizmos. Our victim, my intended Medevac, looked like he was coming down from Terrified. His skin pallor was unnatural, the eyes haunted. The eyeballs were protruding strangely, with the whites showing clearly. He seemed to be hyper ventilating.
California walked over, asked a few questions, nodded, seemingly satisfied, and strolled back to me. Out of immediate earshot of the medical group attending the patient, he beamed at me:
“That’s MY handiwork!”
“Yep!”, he grinned, obviously exceedingly pleased with himself.
“That’s what they pay me for!”
California was now standing, proudly, hands clasped behind his back, literally rocking back and forwards from heel to toe. He had the air of a Creative Artist, exceedingly proud of his Masterpiece.
I probably looked blank. Perplexed. He smiled at me.
“I work for an Insurance Risk Assessment Agency. Our clients are some of the leading High End Insurance Providers in the United States. Serious stuff. Oil exploration drilling rigs, oil refineries, and, like this…”
He waved his arm demonstratively. “…Gas condensate bulk carrier/processing units. High premium, potential extraordinarily high risk. “
He was still rocking.
“This is not my first visit to these shores. The first time, well, the Government here is always in a hurry to run off the ex pats, and replace them with Nationals. At the earliest opportunity. That’s fine, we can understand that. However. Some tasks require more than book knowledge. They require, as you know, a certain imagination. A certain inbuilt culture of risk awareness. That takes time. Well…”
He was still rocking. The Doctor was still talking to the patient, in a low, steady, calming voice.
“Two years ago I came over to look at their High Voltage Transmission Line safety Culture. They had run off all the ex-pats, and were relying almost entirely on nationals. Some were very good. Excellent,in fact. Some of them… My company advised our clients that the risk matrix was unacceptable. In due course, two fried Nationals later, we were proved right. And we saved our clients a lot of money…”
I gulped. The image of electrocuted, charred bodies hanging from High Voltage Transmission Lines.
“Next, I came over to look at their Heavy Plant Equipment safety Culture. Same thing. No more ex-pats. Some of the nationals were very good. However, some of them were appointed to positions only by virtue of family connections, not by virtue of ability or achievement. That soon led to a mobile crane toppled into the harbor, with a dead National Crane Operator pinned underneath. He had tried to jump out…”
I nodded. I had flown over that particular fiasco the morning it had happened. Ugly.
He continued.
“The potential for a cataclysm HERE…”
He was back to smiling again. Hands clasped behind his back. Rocking contentedly back and forth, heels to toes.
“So I got full permission to investigate risk here in this floating bomb. The Captain is an old friend of mine…”
He winked.
“We identified that the ship’s telephone exchange room, the communication center, was a key ingredient in our Risk Analysis. So many Emergency Procedures need to be coordinated through that switchboard. They are all Nationals. It was felt by certain powers,that merely answering a telephone does not need an expensive ex-Pat. Nationals can do that just as well. However, we felt that some of the personalities were weak, and unlikely to cope well with a real emergency. They were doing well with the announced drills, when they knew it was a drill. But how about the REAL deal?
He paused, rocking.
“So all I did was to go down to the hold, and then I called the switchboard. I told him we had smoke down there, and that he had better send somebody. The National just put the phone down. I waited a few minutes, called back, and told him we thought we maybe had a small fire down there. He freaked out, and just hung up on me. I waited a few minutes, and then I called again…”
Rocking, rocking.
“I yelled: WE HAVE A MAN DOWN! WE NEED FIRE CREW AND MEDICAL IMMEDIATELY! And he STILL just put the phone down. Ignore it and maybe it will go away… So I thought: Oh! You want to play that game? So I upped the Ante. We had a dummy all dressed up, life-like, and we poured Tomato Ketchup all over him. Then we propped him up against the elevator doors. I called the Switchboard again.
WE NEED HELP DOWN HERE! THIS GUY IS BLEEDING TO DEATH! WE ARE SENDING HIM UP IN THE ELEVATOR! MAKE SURE YOU GET THE MEDICS! And then I hung up. Well, the switchboard is right beside the elevators. The doors opened, and out fell this blood spattered body. The Switchboard Operator screamed like he had seen a ghost, and ran like hell…”
I was hanging on every word.
He smiled. “So then we couldn’t find the switchboard operator, anywhere. We searched the entire tanker. Meanwhile, all hell was breaking loose. So we decided to let it run its course, to see what would happen. It was interesting…”
I could see that.
“We found the Switchboard Operator, eventually, sitting in a lifeboat on his own, wearing a life jacket, crying, hyper ventilating, with a blood pressure reading of 180 over 120. That’s when the practice drill became a real emergency, and we called you…”

* * * * *

I delivered our National friend and an accompanying Medic to the onshore clinic, and flew off on another mission. More cargo. As I soared off into the clear blue African sky, in my beautiful baby, I reflected on the morning’s interesting events. Holy Moley. Another good bar story.

One thing stood out for me: the simple fact that I wouldn’t voluntarily give up being a chopper jockey for anything in the world.

But another thing I knew now: if EVER I lost my Medical, and I was forced to go look for a REAL job…


I know I want HIS job… King

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on February 24, 2014, 7:07 pm

0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 50 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5 (0 votes, average: 0.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this.

Leave a Reply