07 June 2020


Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?---JRR Tolkien.

Small as it may be, the current virus has tossed the entire world into disarray.

In somewhat viral irony, it became the very Trojan Horse for our political quagmire and the collapse of a democratically elected government. I won't wax political. I'll just say that I find the entire affair rather slutty.

Meanwhile, back at work, as a segment of both, the nation's oil and gas industry as well as the transportation sector via aviation, business continued, but it was rather business as unusual.

It was a bit scary at first, when at the turn of the year, company small talk revolved around pilots having to fly suspected Covid19 carriers. I did wonder what this would entail. Covid19, at January's end, was almost someone else's worry. If we shut our eyes tight enough, we wouldn't get it. We had faced lots of weird viruses and epidemics and yet not everyone was affected by the Nipah virus, the Coxsackie hand-foot-mouth disease of 1977 which seemed to favour young kids, or the SARS of the new millennium. However, the virulence of Covid19 meant that within days of the February 24th collapse of the government, its wildfire had spread far and fast enough to reach the further fringes of offshore helicopter aviation around the world. No matter if we buried our heads in the desert sand, this one would not pass us overhead.

As things would have it, my first Covid19 Person Under Suspicion (PUI) extraction was on March Friday the 13th. The route was to Angsi Alpha, relatively nearby. The myth and fluff of the pandemic had me trepidated for a while, but I had been in these situations countless times and I decided to throw myself into it. The sortie was rather uneventful, and upon landing from the mission, I was to return home straight away and self-quarantine till the PUI's Covid19 test results came forth. After three days of being a complete slob, the group chat text revealed the PUI had tested negatively and I resumed work without hesitation. As the days passed, PUI extractions continued steadily, alternating between increasing frequency and being sporadic, like heaving breaths of the pandemic itself. The company slowly evolved the Covid19 Protocol. Eventually, the wearing of decontamination suits became optional, which set my mind at ease. 

I realise that I was fortunate to be assigned such duties as to carry PUIs safely back to shore where they can be provided the appropriate medical intervention as may have been neccessary. Nothing about that privilege needs elaboration.

We are all well aware that Covid19 is embedded in our communities for the long run. From Leonardo, the current OEM of the AW139 to the company's engineering arm, accruing to the initiating documents from the OEM, plans are under way to install a cockpit-cabin barrier to enhance the current Covid19 aviation social distancing in flight. Our maximum passenger load now stands at six, which is half the seating capacity. This has made life easier, since the seats occupiable are already designated. I no longer have to haggle with the Helideck Crew to restrict any passenger load less than eight pax strong to the first two rows only, keeping the centre of gravity somewhat centred in order to preclude any instance of a tail-down moment upon lift off. Some days, we win some.

Flight scheduling seems to have plunged off a graphical precipice. Upon the end of the monsoon contract during which the sortie board often reached 22 flights per day, we now see the busiest days having only 4 flights. An influx of new pilots without offshore experience into home base Kerteh has further curtailed how often I get to go up in the air. Priorities mean that they get assigned flights more often on the offshore sectors of lenient clients who don't prerequire 50 hours of offshore experience, after which they become eligible to fly for any of the snooty clients we serve. Pilots with ample offshore hours, therefore, literally have to take a backseat for now. I thought clocking 33 hours in April was bad. I clocked 7.15 hours in May.  Some days, we lose a few. I say this even with the neccessary gratitude of being employed.

Yes, I know I am not the only one in the boat. So we keep on rowing through these treacled times. I say a small prayer for my bretheren in the fixed-wing aviation world who bear with the deeper scourges of the virulence of these days. May they glide to a soft landing soon.

15 March 2020

Zero Dark 45

Angsi Alpha at 0045H
Night Standby. That is a rostered MEDEVAC standby duty that many a pilot here would volunteer to be placed on. Over the years from 2014 when I joined the company till this very night, there were about ten MEDEVACs (medical evacuations). Probabilities being on the low, with the Scrooge fisted reluctance on the part of clients which preferred their infected offshore boys hitch a ride on an existing flight under the IDOM (infectious disease, offshore management) rather than declare a dedicated MEDEVAC at a premium, normally meant that a pilot on night standby from 2200H till 0800H the next morning,  has a pseudo off day, not having to come in to work and instead binge watch Netflix with one ear open for an ominous phone call in the wee hours of the morning.

I have never volunteered for night standby. And on the night of 27 February 2020, on the stroke of 2200H, I set my ringtone to loud and began tossing about in bed in anticipation of the customary early morning flight of 0715H following an uneventful night standby. My mind had just wandered off enough to court slumber when the phone rang. Seeing the Flight Operations Officer's caller identification, I went into scramble mode. Apparently some chap on Angsi Alpha had developed an alarmingly rapid pulse rate and warranted a night MEDEVAC to Kuala Terengganu hospital.

The call had come in at 2225H. I jumped into my prepared flying suit and grabbed my headset and flight bag. I jiffied down 5 floors of the apartment and was soon at breakneck speed to the Planners' room at the terminal building, arriving at 2305H. Not bad, considering that the ketum-swigging motorists I encountered on the road refused to be outdone by an Elantra-driving MEDEVAC pilot trying to get airborne ASAP in order to save a life.

My aircraft captain turned up at 2315H (I smirk). The aircraft was fuelled up and the starting crew ready at the terminal at 2330H, and about ten minutes after that, the tower air traffic controller turned up and had fired up the radio comms. We were in business!!

Seeing that the prevailing winds favoured the copilot's approach to Angsi Alpha, after start-up, the controls were handed over to me for the outbound leg. I took the aircraft out to the runway, brought the good girl into a hover and carried out the take-off. Passing 1500 feet, a left hand turn and we were on course to the rig.

I love night flights. The weather enroute was a notch cloudy, and the night time vista is always somewhat calmer, less frenetic than daytime flights. You're not jousting with other helicopters to and from the rigs for airspace, altitudes, traffic separation or getting a word in edgewise on the radio for range calls amidst the flurry of company gossip crowding the company chatter channel.

This being my approach to the rig, I advised the captain that I would opt for an airborne radar approach (ARA). This is where a procedural step down and distance markers to the finals approach would be used with the weather radar returns providing the positive marking of said distances, up to  an abort point if deck visibility were to fall below 1 mile to the helideck. However, seven miles before Angsi, I could see the rig glimmering like a jewel in the distance, and continued visually to complete the night deck landing without incident. It was 0045H at touchdown.

The aircraft captain left me at the controls, rotors running, to use the mens' room below the deck. I stayed in communication with the helideck radio operator and enquired into the status of the patient. The RO asked me how many minutes I could spare till fuel became critically low. I looked at the gauges and said "Ten minutes." Well, we had much more than that, but I hadn't the liberty to use the men's room with my captain below deck who seemingly had no intention of resurfacing even after 30 minutes had passed. I had to reserve bladder capcity, so the earlier we lifted off the earlier I could seek relief. The RO checked in with me on the fuel state at regular intervals and ten minutes was my just as regular answer.

Half an hour had passed. I asked the RO if the captain was anywhere nearby because I wanted to relay the fuel state to him, but the RO did not have him in sight. I guess he was having a coffee. Forty minutes passed. The RO checked in with me again,  and I told him that the critical fuel level would be reached in five to seven minutes idling time. I understood the constraints: heart case patients had to stabilised before being put through the rigours of a flight. The RO bemoaned the fact that this was taking longer because just before being lifted up in the stretcher, the patient began gesticulating that he didn't want to leave and have his friends shoulder his workload. I don't know if it was the medication or comradeship, but it was getting ridiculous.

But, thankfully, on the dot of 7 minutes later, i saw stirrings at the staircase folding gates, and led by the captain, the medical attendant and the stretchered patient made their ambling way to the aircraft. After ensuring that the patient was secure in the aircraft stretcher with the medical attendant reassuringly beside him, the captain then came into the cockpit, assumed control and we lifted off into the night on our merry way to Kuala Terengganu. While he flew this leg, I handled all the communications with the air traffic controller at Kuala Terengganu and coordinated the rendesvous point for the ambulance.  The captain carried out the approach and landing and we taxied our way through unlit taxiways to the flying club apron where stood the awaiting ambulance. After application of brakes and idling the engines, I got off to coordinate the ambulance to a safe distance outside the rotor disc. And this is where the word "expeditious" vapourises into the night air. The ambulance staff cleverly stopped outside the periphery of the running rotors as per my hand signals. But they expected me to direct them as to how to handle the patient. Equally clueless, the medical attendant kept looking at me for instructions on how to off-load the patient. Lads, this is where you step in and perform your functions. Were this a military operation, yes, the aircrew steer the entire mission. But on civvy street, a pilot is just that: an operator of an aircraft. He is not to interfere with or assume control over another specialist's function.

In the end, the medical attendant, after running short of ideas, yanked the oxygen mask off the patient, unbuckled his restraints and made him clamber over the on-board stretcher and hop onto the ambulance's gurney. The ambulance staff were still standing agape as if this MEDEVAC were a spectator sport. Once they were all clear from  the aircraft, I strapped in, called for taxi and take-off clearance, and I set back to Kerteh at 4000 feet for an instrument approach from overhead Kerteh's VOR station to a safe landing at our home airfield.

It was 0300H at touchdown on the tarmac at Kerteh. After submission of the paperwork at flight ops office, I did the unthinkable and drove to the landmark pride and joy of Kerteh, depending on whether or not some comedic boycott is in session: McDonald's. A cup of salted caramel and my first sampling of nasi lemak McDonalds concluded the proceedings of the morning, and I spent the rest of the morning being an unregistered zombie.

And I still never will volunteer for night standby.

09 June 2019

Please Forgive Me, Mr Randy Newman

Engraving by Gustav Dore
You've got a frenemy
You've got a frenemy!
When Zakir Naik is drooling in your bed
And Mazlee is more Mr Neuman instead
Just remember it's all in your head
When you've got a frenemy
O, you've got a frenemy
Courtesy of Google images
You've got a frenemy
You've got a frenemy
East for the east, so you stay on the West
We're not racists, we're simply the best
We'll behead you like we did to the rest
Yeah, we will aramaiti
When we toast to our frenemy!

While eagles and sparrows
Can't be bedfellows
They never fly eye to eye
Remember feathers can only fit pillows
Premier or prince will greet the Reaper guy

With polling years ahead
Don't wish the PM dead
Or curse the plans LGE has made
Just love your frenemy
Yeah, you've got a frenemy!!!!

10 April 2019

A Day Without Fire

And there you have it!

A No 1 Fuel Tank indicating zero. No fuel, no combustion, flame out!

I enjoyed this particular incident because it's not every day that anyone can jokingly claim that they flew back to mainland on an empty tank. Too many fingers would point at you for bad fuel planning, bad airmanship and a host of other skull-impacting insults. 

But you would also see the amber captions which traces the fault to a No 1 Fuel Probe, which is like the fuel sender in the No 1 Fuel Tank. Faulty sender means faulty fuel quantity indication.

With 310 kilograms of fuel in the No 2 tank and a connecting flange sitting above the 228 kilogram level between No 1 and No 2 Fuel Tank, hydraulic laws would mean that the fuel would equalise between tanks. This means that the No 2 tank indication was equal to the fuel in No 1 tank till the fuel drops below 228 kilograms in No 2 tank.

It was an interesting day, having theory being demosntrated in real life, and trusting the whirly bird to get us home.

10 March 2019

Thank The Monkey

That's the guy.

One of many which line the lane to the airport. They sit there at lunch and tea time, waiting for handouts from passers by or to watch the wild boar nuzzle for goodies between the roots and shoots along the very same road.

We know what good parents our Malaysians are when they feed these creatures from their parked cars for an evening of family amusement in ditchwater dull Kerteh, insisting on tossing the food scraps onto the middle of the road where the simians become a road kill hazard when the more humane option would be to toss the food on the grass, right where they are parked, engines running.

I ran over one of these one evening after a long day at work as I was heading back to my apartment. Of course I was remorseful, till five minutes after, when I heard painfully loud groaning noises emanating from my front suspension which I had already changed two days before, closer to home. Further investigations at a my regular mechanic's centre in Kuantan, not Kerteh, revealed that the suspension replacement  was carried out with incorrect suspension mounts. Lesson to self was to stick to one reliable chap instead of the closest at hand. And the epiphany was that if hat little fella hadn't dashed right into my driven path at the last possible moment no matter how I tried to avoid him, I may never have discovered the hidden hazard in my suspension.

Looks like the only morally right thing to do, in spite of remorseful roadkill, is to thank the monkey.

07 April 2018

The Fog's Liftin' , The Sand's Shiftin'

Passing the Terengganu Crude Oil Terminal en route to Tender 9
Many a time I've wondered whether nurturing this blog is relevant.

I've been made to acknowledge that people no longer bother with reading blogs. There is no time to yield for the purpose. Micro-blogging stole the show for a while and its flavour is now a mere aftertaste.
Corporate restrictions become more and more a reflection of the nation's muzzling regime, rendering even one's simple and private pleasures of self-expression painfully constricted.
However, to paraphrase Billy Joel, even "if you said goodbye to me tonight, there would still be music left to write".
And therefore, here I return after nigh a year of sporadic blog posts and absenteeism.
Post-monsoon surface streaks: looking more like scum than plankton
I have had an alteration of job description.
I now hold a secondary post in the base as Base Flight Safety Officer.
As a result I have to do an amoeba split between flying and safety management.
I have done this before. Back in my RMAF days ( rings of Fowler, doesn't it?), I was either Squadron safety Officer or Base Flight Safety Officer, bang from the start of my flying duties. This time around, the familiarity of taking on a job shunned by everyone else is an ample serving of same old, same old.
It's a year now since I took on the appointment. I've reached the borderlines of hypertension and diabetes. My intake of coffee has spiked tremendously in direct correspondence to my blood sugar and cholesterol while sleep apnoea startles me into unwelcomed wakefulness at odd hours of the night.
I feel old. Too little butter scraped over too much bread?
Cruising past the ever distinctive Tapis Romeo
However, when I do get to fly, I feel human again.  The self awareness that age is no longer on my side makes each hour I am airborne all the more a treasure to be savoured. Forget what Hollywood has done, having the laity believe that flying is romantic. The grotesque spin-off from this is the ever ubiquitous notion that pilots are sexy. I work with a lot of pilots, and uuurrghhhh, they are NOT!!!!!!!!!! The fact is, some of them are barely sensible, let alone clever.
Then when management starts prowling around like ravenous carnivores to ensnare those desperate for career progression to keep their families fed, you discover whole new world of deceit and loathing, mostly towards others and sometimes self, when you catch a glimpse of what you've turned into as you pass an importune mirror.
Anyone who is a mere link on the chain of employees cannot lay claim to knowing fraudulence if he's not had to sleep with upper management.
You think translations form Oriental languages are funny? Meet Hai Yang Shi You....later!!
Back to Billy Joel, likewise, shall I continue this labour of love, which is to do what I love: writing. It is not for popularity that I started this, but rather that my mind needs to empty itself periodically and for all I know this hammering away at the keys is what tempered my blood pressure for the many years I have been involved in the mired career of aviation.
Tracking outbound through Lane 4, Kuala Kerteh below.
And as ever, the sights from the cockpit are an unfailing reward.

16 June 2017

Serve To Lead

I have been away from this blog for much longer than I had intended.
I return to it in no happy spirit.
The death of a gentle soul, T Nhaveen, beaten and sodomised, raises many questions on the complete collapse of our moral fibre as a people. We had earlier the matter of Officer Cadet Zulfarhan, beaten and burned till he succumbed to his injuries. This has brought to focus the bane of our society. Bullying.

It does not fall as a sign of the times, or a trait of millenials.

Gauging from the outcry against these incidents of abuse against our humanity, very few people are unacquainted with some form of bullying or its other manifestations.

The incidence certainly does not justify the practise.

My alma mater, the Royal Military College in Sungai Besi, in particular Cadet Wing, was a place that had its own practice of applying pressure and organised violence in shaping future military officers. It no longer exists as a college for Officer Cadets, having aspired to mature into an academy, which it did as Akademi Tentera Malaysia. In its place now stands the Malaysian National Defence University or UPNM.

The recent meaninglessly tragic death of Officer Cadet Zulfarhan had many of us from that alma mater questioning what on earth had metamorphosed from the usual ragging we were familiar with into unequivocal murder. And many an Old Putra of Boys Wing RMC voiced that "We Are Not UPNM" on social media.

Indeed, the two entities are separate. The disassociation is not unjustified. I am not an OP, but having spent two life-changing years in RMC, I understand how we all believe that this would not have happenned under our roof.

I identify and resonate with this belief.

Ragging, as we knew it in RMC, was part of a larger system applied to newbies, Putras in Boys Wing or Officer Cadets in Cadet Wing alike, intended to deconstruct with surgical brutality. But right in the wake of that, would ensue reconstruction. As we were all trained by the army in RMC, I will openly say that the army was professional in breaking you first, then rebuilding you into a better version of yourself in terms of being a military officer.
I am no apologist for the practise of ragging. I do not support it in the public or private institutions of higher learning. That's because none of those are institutions of training for the management of violence. Graduates thereof will not be counting on each other for your survival on the battlefield. They will leave with their scrolls in their hand to fill up various job appointments which will have little to do with each other. The military on the other hand, is a close-knit organisation purpose built for the management of violence. I do not believe that you can breed a soldier by wearing kid gloves. There you have it. It has been said. It has indeed, been done.
But the kind of ragging I faced with my batchmates, whom I fondly call "Squad", was not concealed from the eyes of our instructors. Nobody was isolated from the rest and personally victimised away from observation by superior officers. If one erred, everyone would suffer. Everyone would have their knuckles bleed on the gravel then bake in the heat of the tarmac which made the parade square. Or clean the corridors of our seniors' company line with abrasive detergent and the skin of our backs. Or whatever ingenuity they could conjure to produce discomfort. The "starlight", "hammerlight" or "tongkat-light" were samplings of these. This is not a passage to describe the proceedings, and the life in RMC is far too rich to be captured in a blog post. But what needs to be said is, everything was done with flair. If the picture isn't clear, allow this to elucidate you: that after a ragging session was over, we juniors would be seated in a line on the floor, while at one end of the corridor a senior officer cadet would be boiling us tea in a bucket, while at the other end, another senior and most times a rank holder of Senior Cadet Sargeant or Senior Cadet Corporal, would be passing along packets of cigarettes for us to smoke. The spin-offs from military ragging were cooperation, quick-thinking as a group, comradeship, conforming to rank, maintennance of morale and much much more.
Yes, there were seniors who did occassionally "take it too far". Those were caught, and paid for it. Even commissioned officers who were caught or reported for ragging would be discharged if found guilty. Because we were raised in it, we had an eye for what constituted "corrective training", and what was going beyond reason. I respect the military I served in for having such a clear demarcation through experience and its justice system.
The fact is, ill-treatment of a junior officer (junior officer being subject to further interpretations under the Armed Forces Act 1972) remains an offence under military law. We were told, "You can order a soldier to march forward to his death, but you may not lay a finger on him". Well, of course there were always deviations from this rule, but the rule still stood.
While many of us servicemen, of today and of the past can recollect such days with a touch of humour entwined with nostalgia, this trip down memory lane can never enlighten us on the justifications for what happenned to Officer Cadet Zulfarhan.
For just as ragging is intended to deconstruct and subsequently reconstruct, without control, it becomes a beast bent on the sole purpose of destruction.
A murder has been committed.
We are in serious need of introspection and reparation.
I cannot help but see parallels in the way political entities have outsourced the culture of bullying to NGOs which discriminate and torment segments of our society who do not conform to their understanding of gender, orientation or religious practise. Differences will exist, with or without our approval, but to be inhumane to those who are merely different from us but do not harm us cannot elevate us to higher moral standing.
Until we come to our senses and decide that bullying should never be a mechanism for carving the electorate, we will fail to set the right example for the various microcosms of our society, down to our schools, whose only pursuit should be the moulding of young minds to be future stewards of this country.

Let us remember that it is in giving that we receive. It is in restraint that we liberate the truth. It is by serving that we show our leadership.
If we don't get this corrected, I wonder what manner of stewards we shall mould, and more significantly, what manner of country it will be that they inherit.

12 November 2016

Temperature Variations

There is an old joke, sourced before the ubiquity of mobile phones and Google/Web MD  that goes somewhat like this:
A doctor gets a phone call in his clinic bright and early in his workday, from a rather irate husband. "Doctor, what is this I hear from my wife about how you were rude to her last night? We've been with you for 12 years, with our kids from when they were born. Of all things I never expected you to use foul language on my wife for goodness sake!"
The doctor's brow furrows in strained recollection. "This is Vincent right? Right.....well perhaps there is some explaining to do on my part, and no less on the part of your wife, in the cold light of morning. If you remember I told you I would be outstation for a few days. Last night I had just survived a very long day on the east coast, drove back five hours in horrid traffic and blinding rain. If you understand that the monsoon has set in and I arrived at home drenched from the pit stops I had to make in the torrents and no let up on the weather on this side of the country. You do remember the weather last night yes?"
Vincent's silence suggested acquiescence. "What was my welcoming committee then at two in the morning but the phone ringing off the hook. As I fumbled in my satchel for my key ring I realised that I had probably dropped them at some pit stop and I had now no way of getting into my home, way past midnight. And there went the phone incessantly. I realised that now I had no choice but to break my way in, so I whacked the kitchen window panes with my satchel and all this while with the phone ringing after every disconnect. As I reached for the latch I cut my palm. Making my way in bleeding and clambering over the kitchen sink is no nimble feat either Vincent. Can you feel me on this?"
"Yes, doctor I can a bit."

"Then bleeding my way to the phone in the darkened hall, I manage to pick it up before the next disconnect to hear your wife asking me how to use to use a thermometer. Through clenched teeth to mask my pain, so that she wouldn't think I'm screaming at her, I merely told her."
Rain-obscured finals approach to Runway 16
With that thought in mind, the monsoon seems to be heralding its arrival in fits and starts, with the calm between them growing gradually more brief with each passing squall. What this means is that my cycling programme gets adversely affected. Along with the fewer night qualified crew for night MEDEVAC standby, I have been placed on day flying in the noons to proceed with night standby in rather perpetual motion. My monthly tally of hours clocked in flight is beginning to suffer. So it will till more crew are made current for night deck landings by the ever busy training captains.
The mornings are often wet with rain that began the night before. So it was yesterday as I gazed out from the rear balcony, assessing the likelihood of taking that 20km ride and coming back in one piece amongst the substance-infused drivers of the Kerteh metropolis. It wasn't raining, just wet roads and I realised that with the monsoon set to reign supreme for half a year, or so it feels for that duration of the worst 6 weeks of any monsoon, I had to go the wet road route rather than being baptised on every ride.
And so I set off boldly in my longjohns and skeletal patterned vest. Turning in to the Kijal coastal roads, things still looked like they would hold till I completed the remaining 14km home. Optimism can be myopic can't it?
Then the turn towards Al-Safinah's resort and restaurant through the rural lanes brought the coast and the fir lines into view. The sky and the sea were both black. The headwind over the single-lane bridge to the beach told me I would not get back without being soaked.

Ye Olde Bridge and Telekom Dish
Then it came down before I completed crossing the bridge. I often braved the rain because it is all part of being a cyclist. Today though I was to learn that I cannot take the rain for granted. As the initial pelts seeped through the spandex, the first sign of a difficult ride was that my riding glasses fogged up. Normal difficulty degree. Cold mornings, misty mornings, all do that. Pffft.
It took only 30 seconds before the sky lost all restraint and it just came bawling down. My eyes stung like I had been trapped in teargas. Hey, I know what that is like because I had done riot control training under the Public Order module in RMC. Blinking didn't work. The rain kept washing sweat from my scalp straight into my eyes and it was really painful. I started meandering as I cycled single-handed and tried shaking my glasses out to clear the nasty elixir out of the lenses. Realising the hazards of riding this way if a car should approach from  my 6 o'clock, I stopped at the Telekom dishes, wiped the glasses with my wet gloves and rubbed my eyes with my fingers in windshield wiper fashion. Relief. Continue!!
However, the moment I was moving again, the cycle of forward motion, rain and sweat repeated. Perhaps the design of these Limar glasses pooled the water-sweat mix over my eye sockets and kept  stinging and blinding me. I refused to relent. I would complete this ride without stopping aside for shelter!! I groaned and gasped in pain and pushed on.
As I passed Pantai Penunjuk and approached the Moslem graveyard, my cell phone began ringing...off the hook if there was one. Pedalling against pain and anxiety at what this untimely call could portend, I found a safe spot on the roadside just next to the graveyard gates where most people parked when they were out in better weather tending the graves.
I picked up the call by dabbing through the clear plastic of the top tube bag to the capacitance touchscreen, immediately hitting the speaker icon thereafter. It was the voice of the morning's duty Operations Officer.
"Cap!! Cap where are you? Can you come in now for immediate flight for Exxon?"
I suddenly had the intense desire to explain how to use a thermometer.

04 October 2016

Straighten Up. Fly Right.


Nobody knows what would have gone through your minds in those moments between heaven and earth.
Such experiences are the hallows of the privileged few who have encountered emergencies and system failures in the Nuri and brought the old bird back to ground without taking precious lives in the wake of the only means of reacting they had.
It is enough that you breathe yet. It is enough that you are all alive as a crew.
Whatever the political and service shenanigans may be that you must face, they are secondary to the fact that you're still here and have not lost any of your friends to your handling of a situation gone wrong, and likely unforeseen in the Nuri's aviation history.
Congratulations to the aircraft commander and the crew. Get up, get well. Get past this.
You're more relevant to the aviation world now than many who would stand as judge over you.

15 June 2016

Pissmops and Suspenders

I would be hard pressed to meet anyone from across the ages who isn't familiar with The Jungle Book, whether as a Disney remake or the endearing original works by Rudyard Kipling.

Next to JRR Tolkien, he is my favourite author. His letters from the warfront are eloquently moving. I particularly enjoy his Just So Stories, with How The Whale Got His Throat ranking as amongst the top of these tales. There is a line narrated by the 'Stute Fish to the Whale in describing how to find the shipwrecked Mariner, which runs, "you will find, sitting on a raft, in the middle of the sea, with nothing on but a pair of blue canvas breeches, a pair of suspenders (you must not forget the suspenders, Best Beloved), and a jack-knife, one ship-wrecked Mariner, who, it is only fair to tell you, is a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.'' I'd say unashamedly that the best rendition of this tale is in the audiobook snippet by Ralph Fiennes. 
While I wish I were a man of infinite resource and sagacity, one episode in the offshore world sadly revealed that alas, I am not so, mostly because I did forget the suspenders, and had continued to forget for many a sector offshore. Or so the story goes, in a manner of speaking.

Build me a crude oil terminal worthy of Mordor!!!!
It was indeed a fine sunny morning last month, running an inter-rig sector from Kerteh to Lawit to Jerneh Alpha and back. The start-up and taxi to the pick-up point next to the terminal building was uneventful. Dull might have been a better description.
The routine is that once the last passenger has boarded the aircraft and they are all engrossed with strapping in, the non-flying pilot will provide the pre-departure brief. Normally it runs somewhat like this:
"Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard Weststar 203, with Captain Jack as the aircraft commander and I am Senior First Officer Jeffrey your co-pilot. We'll be flying you soon at 4500 feet and about an hour's cruise flight time to Lawit Alpha. During this time please ensure that you are comfortably seated with your harness on and get to know your emergency exits with further information on your safety leaflets placed underneath your seats. In the unlikely event of an emergency, take directions from the aircrew. If there is something you wish to bring to our attention, please come forward, tap us on our shoulders and we will respond accordingly. We expect fair weather on this flight so sit back and relax. Another brief will be provided before we land. Thank you." 

Silver linings and rose gold. The shore slips away as we head out for night deck landing
This pre-departure brief is given on the tarmac and on every deck when new passengers get on board the aircraft so that everyone is clear as to what to do and expect at any time, outbound from or inbound to mainland.
There are times when the passenger load is light, as was this day with only 7 passengers, leaving little luxury of time for me to provide such a mouthful of a brief before taxying out to line up on the runway became imminent. So after notifying them on the flight duration, I abbreviated the emergency drill to: 
"If there is an emergency, we will brief you as to what to do and if not, just sit back and enjoy the flight. Be talking to you before landing, thank you."
I always believed it covered the pertinent facts. But back to the flight, climb out to 4500 feet was expediently carried out and soon we were cruising through Kuala Terengganu's control zone and giving the air traffic controller our route details for transit clearance and traffic information. Lawit Alpha was indeed just shy of an hour's flight time away, where we were to drop off four lads and pick up another four back to Kerteh, while three were destined for Jerneh Alpha, a rough 16 minutes from Lawit, with approach time extending the inter-rig proceedings to 20 minutes.

The sun sets on a sleepy offshore world
The Lawit drop off also was uneventful. I got down on deck to oversee the passenger exchange while the captain remained on board to set up the flight management system for the next leg and brief the new passengers. I was already hoping that upon landing at Kerteh, this dull turn of events would eventually read as a split duty, meaning I could head back to Kijal with all the chance of a split for good.
Hardly had we settled at a low cruise en route to Jerneh Alpha when we heard voices from the cabin. A Ramli Sarip-ish passenger was beckoning wildly at us as if to pass a message. I gestured to him to write his message down, passing him the only expendible sheet of paper I had on my flight board: the rig weather report. Looking backward to understand the nature of his urgency, I noticed he was crouched over the cabin floor. Soon he was gesturing for more paper. Through vehement waving of arms and other uninhibited gesticulations, I understood that the poor lad had wet himself, and he was using the paper not to write anything down, but to clean up after himself.
The aircraft captain was at sixes and sevens over how to handle this. He suggested that the Helicopter Landing Officer at Jerneh Alpha arrange for rags to clean up the aircraft. I pondered this and realised that was not quite right. I considered that rigs were akin to ships dead in water; a maritime op, and more appropriately a swabbing of the deck would be the better an option. My radio call to Jerneh Alpha for that purpose was greeted with affirmative answers from the HLO and we went steadily in for finals approach.
Once on deck, the guys at Jerneh Alpha were ready to set to work with a drenched mop and to my impressed delight, aerosol Dettol. Our Ramli Sarip Doppelganger helped swab the helicopter cabin floor. He looked ruefully at me and shook his head as he bellowed into my earpiece, "I really couldn't tahan anymore." I nodded. It could happen to any of us. He then rushed below deck to a hurried shower and a change of clothes. We were longer on deck at Jerneh Alpha as we waited for him to return to the aircraft, but everyone, from aircrew to offshore brat, was sympathetic towards him.
I wondered aloud to my aircraft captain why the poor chap didn't just come forward and let us know he needed to take a leak instead of springing one. After all, the drill for us aircrew when facing any passenger with a bellyache is to radio the nearest rig and provide the fellow with speedy relief rather than he burst his bowels. I realised that in fact, he may not have known that options were available to him if the brief given to him did not include the part that he could notify us of any urgency mid-flight, if a brief was in fact given at Lawit Alpha. I do know of some pilots who keep mum while passenger disembarkation and embarkation is in progress. I decided then, that I would never again omit the part of the brief where I tell the passengers what to do if any of them were to have something urgent to bring to the pilots' attention.
Somewhere on the return leg to Kerteh, I clearly heard Ralph Fiennes saying most personally, "now, you know why you were not to forget the suspenders!"

And the pictures herein are like the plot of Whose Line Is It Anyway? They don't matter and their relevance to the post is utterly made up.