Aborted … A chopper and an aborted flight.
The chopper was unable to make the return flight from the rig back to town yestetday. So here we are, all cocooned on the rig while awaiting the technicians (for the helicopter company) to come from town and fix their chopper. (Bell 412). The technicians will be flown to the nearby FPSO from where they will sail by boat to our own rig to do their jobs – fixing the chopper up.
The chopper was left strapped to the helideck overnight while awaiting the arrival of the aircraft repair technicians to salvage the situation. The two pilots stayed on board along with the other rig personnel. The co-pilot, a tall, young and handsome confident-looking Nigerian has two stripes on his superbly fitting work coveralls. He responded warmly with thanks when I complimented him about his fitting coveralls. He reminds me of my son who dreams of becoming a pilot some-day. The pilot, equally smart looking and in similar uniforms has 4 stripes on his shoulder. My guess is that the white pilot is old enough to be the father of his Nigerian co-pilot. Yesterday, while trying to lift-off the helipad, the duo quickly discovered that the chopper will not be able to make the flight. They quickly aborted the flight before straying far from the safe perimeter of the helipad into the air and wide deep blue sea of the Atlantic (Bight of Bonny). Talking of experience. If any 2 pilots will fly and land a chopper safely, these are the men. So, I assumed. By God Almighty, so let it be. Amen. Experience and confidence. I was not on the flight myself. I was still expecting the arrival of a spare part needed for my job (via chopper flight).
Commenting on the experience while we were in the galley yesterday evening, one of the rig personnel who was inside the aborted flight said something along this line “… we want to go home, we want to go home. The way some people’s bodies use to shake when it is time for them to go for their days-off on crew-change self. Thank God for answering the prayers we make here. At the rig’s Christian fellowship meetings, we always pray steadfastly for safe flights especially on our crew-change days…” To which I replied, “the pilots are really experienced, that is why they were able to quickly detect that the chopper will not be able to make the flight back to town and immediately aborted the flight. You can imagine what would have happened if the chopper has flown far from the rig before they discovered the fault? It would have just plunged into the sea. And you know what that means. It could as well have been any one of us here who would have been on that flight” To which the other guy saying further, “… this company (by which he meant the oilfield operator) with their old choppers. Why can’t they just change this chopper to a newer and more air-worthy model? They and the government will wait until people lost their lives before they start doing something.” Another guy replied, “… it is not really their fault, it is the fault of the people at the top and at government levels who are to be blamed. They “force” or turn blind-eyes to these people even when they know that the choppers and planes are of doubtful air-worthiness.”
In the mean time, I keep working on my next project. I scanned (I actually took pictures of the individual pages) a frequently used book with my Android optical character recognition program (OCR) back at home. I started it some 3 weeks ago and I am more than 60% complete now. The job is a painstaking labour of love. The OCR program on my Galaxy S3 did a fairly good job (of recognizing texts in the pictures taken with the phone camera), but I still needed to do a lot of Word corrections and rearrangements to make the work as decent looking in e-formart as it was in the hardcopy format. You are asking me, “Chris, are you not violating copyrights of the author ?” No. I am certainly sure I am not. Even the printed book itself is not copy righted. Moreover all or most of its contents are freely available in the public domain. At any rate, I will still cross-check to ease your doubts. I will share with you when I am done with my e-book project.
Along the passage, I overheard this brief exchange. “Are you going today?” “No, I am not. I have to wait till on Monday.” “OK, the chopper has not made the flight back yet.”
“The helicopter mechanics have arrived now but they are still in the boat. The crane ( that was repaired last night) could not pick them off the boat. Hmm, this rig has many issues o.” “The men is (sic) here.” So the chopper mechanics are onboard at last.” “And the weather is really getting unpredictable already.” “At best, we can only make one flight, if at all there is any today.” In fact, even if the flight is ready, I don’t want to go again today myself. I will go on Monday.”
The time is 3.43pm. The chopper is still strapped to the helideck. I (we) are still cocooned on the semisub.
The co-pilot came in a short-while ago. Reassuringly, he told us that the chopper was being fixed. “It was a minor problem. It will be fixed shortly after which we will test it before proceeding to PHC.”
When the co-pilot reentered the briefing room, I approached him and requested if he will oblige my taking his picture. I told him that my son dreams of becoming a pilot some day. I want to show him the picture of what a pilot looks like. The co-pilot with a smile graciously permitted me. I was even fiddling for the flash setting of my Galaxy Note 3. Again, he came to my rescue and helped me to spot out the setting. I hope the shot did justice to his confident friendly demeanour.
We have weighed in and have watched the flight safety video.
Still waiting …
Finally, we were marshalled into the chopper. Yes, the same chopper. The pilot gave us a brief review of the safety procedures to be followed in any emergency. “Make sure you are strapped to your seats with your seat belts all the time. Only removed when we touch down at NAF Base.” And as if to allay the fears and the concerns of his passengers he said, “This chopper has been tested thoroughly and it is perfectly safe to fly it. I will not accept to fly it if I have any reservations about its being safe. I want to go back to my family too.” His reassuring and warm infectious smile brought the smile to my face too. Not long afterwards, the machine was airbone. Flying directly into the setting sun, the chopper was deftly manouvred by the pilot in a nothern direction as we head towards Port Harcourt.
The flight was like many previous ones safe and hitch free. Over the Atlantic and then over Niger delta swamp, approximately 35 minutes later, we were back to terra firma. The terrain below welcomed us with incandescent bulbs shimmering and flickering like gloworms lighting. Below us, the landscape was dotted with mostly brown rusty color of old corrugated roofs of mostly old buildings.
Finally, we disembarked from the chopper, with smiles of appreciation, we all shook hands with the co-pilot one by one. Approaching the co-pilot, I shook hands with him. Back on the rig when I took his picture, I forgot to ask for his name. “My name is Akinlade Christopher. May I know your name please…?”
Thank you Jesus. All is well that ends well.