Francis Meyrick

Of Helicopters and Humans (36 ) “Unpopular Decisions “

Posted on February 24, 2015

Of Helicopters and Humans

Part 36: Unpopular Decisions

(First published on “Just Helicopters – Blog ” on Dec 7th, 2014)

It is impossible to please everybody all the time, and sometimes it is impossible to please somebody anytime. That’s life. Or the rolling decks of slippery Matrimony. You wanted to be a sailor, and see the world, right? Grin and bear it, son, you’re seeing the sea.

If you are a chopper jockey, and you want the world to love you unconditionally, you are in the wrong career. Try Politics. No real work experience required. If you get elected, good pay, great fringe benefits, Private Health Care System not available to the greasy Plebs who voted you in, and, above all, wildly enthusiastic groupie followers who will cheer your every word. They will worship you, and you can do no wrong. Their applause and adulation is a great tonic, and the roar of approval sweeps you along on the crest of the popular wave. There is a story told that Barack Obama once stopped the Royal Presidential Grand Pooh-bah motorcade outside a Burger King, on the way to the Golf Course, because he was hungry. All that speech making and teleprompter reading, damn, I’m sure it tires you out. Well, the Secret Service wouldn’t let him go in by himself, in case he got lost, so they went to go in, to place his order. He shouted out to them what he desired, but the crowd on the pavement thought he was making a speech. So they cheered and clapped and swooned and waved American flags. The President, frustrated, shouted again to the Secret Service, but he couldn’t make himself heard over the roar of approval from the ever swelling adoring populace on the sidewalk.

The next day, all the local newspapers and ‘Gliberal Media’ carried photos and headlines about Obama’s stirring impromptu speech outside Burger King. There were lots of photos of people cheering enthusiastically. Some were teary-eyed. If the truth be known, all he said was: “Two double Cheeseburgers and Fries, please… “, followed by:


But everybody clapped and swooned and thought it was wonderful, and all were so glad they voted for him – twice.

So that’s the career I recommend if you want unquestioning puppy love. In the choppy world, the real rotary world, not so lucky, I’m afraid.

Thus, one dark night, I was comfortably tucked up in bed with my Teddy Bear, fast asleep, and I got called out. I was flying for the Sheriff’s Office, and I was told there was a serious emergency, and they needed the helicopter. Sure, I’m on my way. I did my usual rapid dressing, recovered expertly from two limbs down one trouser pant leg, and comforted the cat after standing on her tail. Oh, and apologized to Mama for elbowing her in the eye.

Soon I was racing through darkness to the hangar, where I found two of the Patrol Sergeants waiting impatiently. Agitated. We launched quickly, and the issue at hand was this: a head on car crash, somewhere, out there in the desert darkness, with several children ejected out through the wind screen. No seat belts. Problem was, they were on a dirt road somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, and the Fire Department couldn’t locate them. Meanwhile, the frantic 9-1-1 calls kept coming in.

It was a dark night. Really, really dark. Low overcast, no moon, no stars. We had already applied for a so-called COPS grant for Anvis 9 NVG’s, but they were still a far-off dream. This was still Mark One (sleepy) Eyeball. I tried to inquire what kind of area we were going to be searching in. It was a really large county. The two sergeants, one of whom had a large family of young ones himself, were focused on finding, not flying. Tunnel vision. I tried to drop a hint that this might just not work out. Zero response. With misgivings, I flew along in the general direction. It was all right at the start: city lights, street lights, good orientation. I had a respectable amount of night flying under my belt, including in mountainous areas, and I searched in vain for some kind of natural lighting. Nothing. That damn overcast. Soon we left the town behind us, and now it started to get harder. And harder. At first, there was the odd house, with maybe a security light. But eventually, and fairly abruptly, I was faced with… nothing. Black. A void. Zero surface references.

I turned around.

“Sorry guys, this is not going to work. No ambient light…”

Instant eruption. Two emotional passengers. All sorts of classic EMS pilot-challenge comments:

“We have GOT to get there!”

“We have no choice – we HAVE to find them!”

Somewhat tougher in mindset than I perhaps sound, my silent thoughts were ice cold:

“Yes, we DO have a choice, and I’m NOT going there…”

I had by now turned back towards the distant city lights. To humor them, I turned back on course, towards Zero Dark Thirty, and, with no intention of pressing on, I explained, nicely but firmly, that I could not safely fly due to the lack of any visual references. “And”, I ended up, “I don’t know what’s out there. Hills, mountains, wires, God knows…”

To this, one of the Sergeants angrily interjected: “Well, I KNOW that area! It’s flat land!”

I kept the cool. I wasn’t pleased, but now was the time to show reasonable, not irritable.

“Well, that’s fine, I believe you, but I can’t just blast on and take your word for it. I need to be able to ascertain that for myself, to be safe, and I can’t. So, I’m sorry, but we are turning back…”

And I did. Temperature in the helicopter: Minus two hundred and forty Kelvin.

Tough titty… Yawn

“Well”, they said, in total exasperation, “there’s a Fire Station three miles West of here. Can you get us there???” The intonation of the question seemed to imply severe lack of faith in my brain, judgment and skill power

I said I thought I could. They got on their radio, and in short order we had the offer of one of their vehicles to continue the journey by road.

We landed there safely, and I wondered if they would even wait for me to cool down the engine, or if they would just blast off and leave that useless excuse for a Pilot behind. But no, they waited for me, irritably, and I ended up packed in the back amongst Fire Department equipment, like so much obsolete baggage. Off we sped through the darkness, tires squealing, to continue the search by road. I made myself as comfortable as I could, sighed philosophically, and decided that seeing as I was not the flavor of the day/night, and not being involved in any way in their conversation, perhaps I might get some sleep. I was just dozing off, not easy when you are hitting every bump and rut in Creation, when my attention was drawn to a comment from the front. One of the dark shapes, peering out the side window, was saying to the other dark shape:

“Well, I’m surprised. It’s quite mountainous here, isn’t it?”

Mountainous?? Hey, buddy! I thought it was supposed to be FLATLAND. Speaking
I peered out the window myself, and with great difficulty I could just about make out some decidedly NON-FLAT, vertically undefined, remarkably CRAGGY shapes. With indistinct tops.

I was sorely tempted to open my uncouth, undiplomatic, irreverent, Irish cake hole. Several comments rose to my lips. Pungent. Biting. Venomenous. How nice it would have been to vent. But my dear old Irish mother used to tell me to count to ten. I tried. I think it took me to seven hundred and forty-something. But I kept it buttoned. With difficulty. My mindset was kind of the mental equivalent of arms-folded, foot tapping, hard -eyed, blood-spitting indignation. But now was not the time.


Then, finally, in the distance, we saw blue flashy lights. The State troopers had gotten there first, and were guiding everybody in. They had also called for an EMS helicopter.

“I hope he’s got NVG’s”, was all I could think.

It took us a while, but we got there. Somebody yelled at us:

“Do you guys have your pilot with you?”


A Medic came running over to me, thrusting a radio into my hand.

“Quick! He wants you to talk him down!”

“What!? Who!?”

“The Pilot! The EMS Bird! There he is!”

I looked up, and there, high above us, and (hopefully) well above the unseen mountain tops, came the EMS helicopter. He started an orbit, presumably focused on the blue lights, far, far below.

I was dumbfounded. “What do you mean, he wants me to TALK HIM DOWN? It’s pitch black out here. Doesn’t he have NVG’s?”

Apparently the aviator over our heads did not. I stared from the agitated (breathless) Medic’s face to the circling helicopter, high above, and back again. Everybody was looking at me. Eventually, I found my voice:

“No! In fact, HELL NO! I have NO CLUE what’s out here. I can’t see Jack. NO! I’m not taking responsibility for that. No way!”

Minus Two hundred and forty Kelvin. For the second time that night. It just wasn’t my night to feel the love. Disgusted, the Medic stomped away. He communicated to the EMS Captain that the Sheriff’s Pilot was refusing to talk to him. (Lead Balloon). Then…

It took them at least ten minutes. An extraordinary approach. The EMS bird parked as best as he could vertically overhead. Zero airspeed, I’m sure. And then, very slowly, he just let on down…

Down into the Black Hole.

“You’re going West a bit… come back East…”

The helicopter slowly responded, as best he could. Lights wobbling. Unstable.

“You’re about a mile South of us now… Come North a bit…”

The helicopter slowly responded, as best he could. Lights wobbling. Unstable.

“Hold it. Hold it… you’re drifting way too far South-East…no, South WEST I mean…”

I held my breath. You could tell by the abrupt, jerking movements in the search light beam, that some of the pitch inputs were hurried or rough. Not surprising. Coming down from a great height with zero airspeed?? Wobble-wobble?? And what’s your rate of descent? How far do you know you are from the mountain tops? Especially drifting off “South-east… no, South-WEST I mean…”??

Awesome. I wouldn’t want to do that in a fit. What happens if something QUITS?? What are you going to do NOW, Gunga-Ding? No airspeed, no visibility, no clue what’s below you… Engine failure, tail rotor failure, settling with power, etc, etc…??

He made it. Patients got loaded. Off he went. Everybody happy. Outstanding team work, guys. Except for that sorry-ass Sheriff’s Office Pilot.

* * * * *

So you’ll see my point maybe. If it’s love you want, unconditional applause, maybe the Nobel Peace Prize, then you must invest in a good teleprompter, and a good make up artist. Next step is to get somebody to secretly write your autobiography for you. Finally make sure you learn how to bow deeply from the waist. It pleases real Kings.

Above all else, do NOT go in to helicopters.

Francis Meyrick

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on February 24, 2015, 9:07 am

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