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.
video
 
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?
video
 
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.

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2016/10/04/hisham-directs-rmaf-to-probe-copter-emergency-landing/

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.
video
 
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.
 

02 June 2016

Silence Isn't Always Golden

Sometimes, it is just plain yellow.
 
My mind and heart have had their hands at the plough for the last three months. Three months of fear and worry congealed into night after night of dreamlessness and timelessness, without texture or taste. I have not had the time to look back on my flying life as it took a back seat to Brenda's tussle with the possible Big C, just as I had with my episode with glue ear. In her case, it was a thymoma, and she is still recovering. She is however, a model patient and is progressing better than expected except for pain management. We will know more in three months.
 
And now that life seems to be creeping back to normal, I can finally break this silence.
 
Sunset for the EC225?
The helicopter world, especially those involved in offshore operations would have been shocked by yet another incident involving the EC225 about a moth back, this one being fatal, at Bergen Norway. An EC225 was returning to Bergen and on finals approach, the main rotorhead separated from the fuselage. All 13 persons on board perished. The horror of the tragedy carries with it the second time that the EC225 gets scourged by a media nightmare. Offshore workers' unions have been clamouring for the expungement of the entire Super Puma lineage from offshore operations, Those in the industry would remember the 11 months of grounding the aircraft type underwent in 2012, although the two ditchings were safe with the passengers literally stepping out of the buoyant aircraft directly into the rescue boats.
 
What this means for us across the tarmac is that we have now got to shoulder the vacuum left by our competitor's stop-flight instructions as the offshore flight ban has been applied across the world fleet. I'm not lamenting, as I do enjoy flying two sectors a day and raking up the offshore hours, especially since I haven't had profitable hours recently. The local oil and gas industry has reduced the intensity of flight scheduling in keeping with the global slowdown, keeping parallel with the world crude oil freefall. Even though the price of Brent crude has clawed up to 50 USD a barrel, the slowdown has not converted into an upswing yet. I do wish for enough time to cycle regularly though. With my annual aircrew medical coming up, I will have to cram in some miles on the Apollo Exceed even at the risk of heatstroke because sweltering evenings are all I have left, if I get evenings at all.
 
I can't imagine the offshore world without this workhorse
In fact I feel bad for my friends in what is now my rival company. I have been exactly where they are now, facing uncertainty. I was a pilot in their fleet back then. I remember the insanity of month after month of waiting for a lift to the grounding, the frustration at how our authorities played the waiting game, watching for who across the globe would set foot offshore first before letting us off the hook. I recall disillusionment, hopelessness and loitering at the company simply because I couldn't bear being inside the walls of home. I pray that they can remain calm and patient in this most trying of times. With any luck, this will not be an extended wait, since the industry rumour is that the investigation board has wound up their findings and concluded that it is not a design fault that led to this catastrophic rotorhead failure.
 
These doldrums are not unusual in the flying profession. It happened to Dreamliner pilots circa the same period the EC225 was facing problems in 2012 to 2013. Pilots faced loss of currency, loss of license and joblessness, with no marketability as their aircraft type was not flyable. These same sentiments were expressed by my old stablemates as they saw the almighty unions in the North Sea succeeding in their push to extinguish the Super Puma from the aviation world.
 
Let's hope that non-aviators do not prevail in determining what flies and what does not.

08 March 2016

Prodigal


The church at midnight mass 24 Dec 2015. Looking like gingerbread by moonlight.

How quickly we have moved away from the hushed celebration of Christmas, whizzed past the Chinese New Year and now we are squat in the middle of a rather un-austere Lent.
 
The acclimatisation from east coast to west coast takes its toll differently on each one of us, predominately in the availability of choices, and whilst we were all enrapt within ourselves, we overlooked the totem truth that what we are to each other matters more than what we can get out of the place we are situated in.
Antonio. So named was this kitten of a stray when he walked in,
 reasons being obvious
 
Eleven days of anguish visited us when Antonio took his late night walk on the 18th last month and failed to turn up at his usual spot at the front door the morning after.
 
Such agony over a pet, and the unimaginable horror over anyone's loss of a loved one formed the chromatography of emotions and memories that flogged our minds, such that the passing of another great life from my own, that of my grandmother, ran in somewhat muted parallel while we hoped and lost hope over Antonio. The fact is, I know what my grandmother's troubled life did to her, and this eternal rest was given in such timeliness at her laudable age of 92, to nobody better deserving within my little circle of kith and kin. I found more peace in being resigned to her going than the void of not knowing what happened to that infuriating but sweet feline. How true it is then that closure is a means to coping with, while not mitigating the sting of, loss.
 
My grandmother, the grand matriarch on my mother's side of the family, passed into the great beyond on the 17th of February, after a very brief struggle for breath, having survived a failing heart from as far back as 2008. With her departure, went also the only ally I ever had on my mother's side of the family. She may have needed someone better sighted than herself for the passage ahead, and took Antonio along with her as a seeing eye cat. The timing thereof seemed logical.
 
Or perhaps, as Brenda would put it in her irreverently macabre way, that Granny had already begun interceding for her grandson without so much as a siesta upon reaching the other shores. She would be in the know from her current seat, that the rosaries I offered during the nightly prayers for her over the week were rife with entreaties for Antonio rather than for her soul, which I knew had already found a good place in paradise. At least that would explain the utterly bizarre manner in which one week after Granny's funeral, Antonio meowed indignantly outside our bedroom window on the roof ledge no less, at 0300 Sunday morning. Just the night before, not four hours back did we toast the cat replete with a deserved eulogy, and awakened by an unbelievably familiar voice, we both literally leapt out of bed to reel him in through the window. Presented for proof before the court comprising our well awakened children, there were tears of relief and joy.
 
Life sucks. We really ought to be glad when it doesn't. And utterly jubilant when she beams at us.

Thank you, Grandma.