Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (35) “Do you see any wires? “

Posted on September 20, 2014

Photo: Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (35)

Do you see any wires?

“Do you see any wires?”, I asked the cop on the ground.
“No”, he said, positively. His firm voice inspired confidence.

We had been on a drawn out Night Law Enforcement Mission, chasing a crazy guy on PCP. It’s another story. He had bounced around, in and out of my search light, and finally ended up locking and barricading himself in a storage shed. Cool. The helicopter, patiently going around and around, using the excellent Starburst system, had continued to pin point the perp’s location. Reinforcements pouring in. The bad guy was now totally surrounded. We were not sure if he was armed or not. He sure was violent. He had already punched out several cops.

It was time to land. I had picked a spot, and I had already carefully reconnoitered it, using the light. This was pre-Anvis 9 days. I was pretty confident that all was well, and the cop on the ground, waving his flash light, was adamant.

“No wires”.

I had a lot of respect for wires. A LOT OF A LOT. Mucho. A whole gross of Mucho. So many accidents have been caused by helicopters hitting wires, that it’s impossible to stay in Aviation for any period of time, and not come across mangled helicopters, or dead friends. We had talked about it. Many a time. Discussed night approaches and take-offs. The general consensus was always: “Do it way more slowly, and way more steeply. And KNOW THEY ARE THERE. SOMEWHERE. Waiting for you…”

True words, that I knew and always took to heart. I treated my night landings with the greatest of caution. I knew where to look for the little darlings. And, heck, I looked. And looked. And looked again.

There had already been the time the time I had been called out on a desert SAR. And landed, eventually, softly, beside the missing helicopter. Or what was left of it. Even from the air, the sheer scale of the debris field had awed me. The sheer violence of the impact spoke of a high speed collision, with the remnants of the helicopter mangled and distorted almost beyond recognition. Many of us, in quiet moments, have marveled at just how destructive the impact forces are. If you study photos, it will give you an idea, but nothing, nothing, rivals the education of standing forlornly in a debris field. One look tells you that the pilot, your brother, is stone dead. His skull is mushed. The last look of astonishment still sculpted indelibly on his face. You shake your heads silently. What a mess. The A&P in me, the lover of helicopters, finds himself awed. At how the mighty works of mice and men, in an instant, can be reduced to shards and crushed tin cans, destroyed couplings and twisted shafts. But above all else, what you take away from that, what you remember, what, somehow, elevates your understanding, is…

…the deep sound of silence.

Where once turbine blades spun at 30,000 RPM, and couplings revolved, and hot gases obediently flowed, following their assigned routes. Where once a man operated the radios, and chatted with his passenger, and kept his sandwiches. Now, only the Silence. A deep, deep silence.
And you think of the mechanics, and the component manufacturers, and the design engineers, and all those myriad professionals, that made it possible for this aircraft to slip the surly bonds of the Red Dust, and venture, bravely, into the Eternal Sky. Only to be brought down, prematurely, at the peak of Life, in to this scrap heap. This mangled, pitiful, pointless mess.

Photo: Francis Meyrick

There had already been the time I had been called out to “intercept” a helicopter flying crazily and flat out down the hard shoulder of a major Freeway at twenty feet. Facing oncoming traffic. Scattering surprised cars and trucks in all directions. He was being chased by multiple agencies in the far lane, with blue lights and sirens going, but he held his course and his altitude. I had raced frantically to the scene, wondering about what I was going to do when I actually got there. Too late… I had arrived in time only for the wreckage, and the Great Sound of Silence. An impact with wires had terminated two lives. It could have been many more.
So I was respectful of wires. Wary. Super cautious. And always looking really, really hard. I landed, uneventfully, and picked up two Deputies. Took off, slowly, steeply, cautiously.

No wires.

* * * * *

The next day was my day off. No more chasing PCP crazies for a whole day. By chance, I was driving with my wife along that exact same road. I told her, laughingly, that this where I had landed the previous night. Oh, she said. How interesting.
Then, abruptly, I stopped the car. “What’s wrong?”, she asked. “Nothing”, I lied. “I just want to look at something.” I got out and stared.
For a very, very long time.

At the wires.

That I had missed.

Stretched across the road.

I had missed them on my (steep) take-off run by maybe twenty yards.

Holy Smokes…

Friend Reader, Brother Pilot, Watch the Wires. Wires. Wires.

And again. Brother.

Watch the Wires, wires, wires…

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on September 20, 2014, 4:59 pm

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