Brief them up…
On a crew, everyone has a specific job that must be done. When it isn’t done or not done properly it is the beginning of the error chain that if left uncorrected can be catastrophic. The news world is glued to the Malaysia Flight 370, they are telling us specular tales of hijacking, false passports, sudden radio blackouts, and all other salacious theories of death at 40,000 feet. I don’t know what happened but one day we will look back at the chain of events and see several critical moments when this event could have been prevented.
It is really hard to know what is true and what isn’t true. Our good friend Karlene Petitt has a great post about her ideas concerning what happened on the flight. Not only has she been flying commercial aircraft forever, she is an International Line Pilot for a major airline. In addition she has written two fictional novels about what happens when things go wrong at 40,000 feet, she is completing her PHD in Aviation Safety and has researched TWA Flight 800 that mysteriously exploded on climb out from New York and Air France 447 that spiraled down out of control over the Atlantic Ocean. If anyone has a clue about things going bad at 40,000 feet, it is her. You can check out her post here http://karlenepetitt.blogspot.com/
I think it comes down to two possibilities. Alien abduction or a reality television of the show LOST. To me they are the only two things that make sense. No matter what happened it is a disaster in every sense of the word and my heart breaks for all those who lost a loved one. No matter what nationality you might be, we all love and we all hurt when tragedy strikes.
In the Fall of 2003, my crew jelled very quickly thanks in a large part to Doc Y and his witch hunt. But the major lesson learned from the miss-loaded cargo was that the Loadmaster, RB was over tasked. Normally we had two people to handle the back end but since RB was a one man crew in the back, it was up to the rest of us to divide his work. Things like re-configuring the airplane from cargo to passengers, pushing or pulling the cargo on and off and generally helping him while we were on the ground.
One flight early on, RB was busy so I told him I would brief the passengers. From that moment on, that became my role. For the poor passengers, I sure it was cruel and unusual punishment having to listen to me turn what should have been a three minute safety brief into a fifteen minute comedy routine. In fact I continued to brief the PAX on every rotation afterwards. It was good fun for me and for the soldiers, I can only imagine of what they thought.
I started off asking who was new to the AOR and who had never flown on the C-130 before. There were always new folks, so I spoke to them. Asking their names, asking where they were from and trying to make a connection before I busted out in war and drama. Everyone else got to enjoy the comedy show. It went something like this.
I started out the show handing out ear plugs. “These are ear plugs, not chewing gum. Roll up the end and put it in your ear. They don’t work as well in your nose or mouth.”
“There is a very good possibility that nothing is going to happen on this flight. But just in case you should know the parachutes are for the crew only. Do not play with them. From time to time, the crew puts on the parachutes and walks around towards an open door. If that happens please make a path for us. If we all happen to fall out that open door, the first one to the pilot’s seat gets to fly.”
“We are going to Baghdad today. We are going to fly low and fast to get in. The airplane will be banking in all directions, never being a stable target for the insurgents. We are not doing this because of the threat; we are doing it because it is fun. You will not enjoy it as much as we do. If you think you are going to puke and you like the guy your sitting next to, get the puke bag out and use it. Just be sure to take the bag of shame off the airplane with you. If you don’t like the guy next to you, feel free to puke on his boots. Just remember that he has a revenge puke still in him. And if you puke on the floor, I promise my Loadmaster is going to make you clean it up.”
“If you hear something hitting the side of the airplane with a sledge hammer followed by a very aggressive bank. The banging is the defensive system puking out flares and the banking is avoiding the missile that was shot at us. Count to five, if nothing bad happens we lived so you can go back to sleep. If your buddies’ blood is on you, it sucks to be him. If your blood gets on your buddy, it sucks to be you.”
If there is smoke and fire in the back end, put this plastic bag on your head.” I held up the personal oxygen system in an olive green colored bag. “Your mama told you to never put your head in a plastic bag and she was right but if you can’t see your buddy because it is too smoky, you can put your head in this bag or you can die. Pull the chord on the back and it is supposed to make oxygen. I have no idea if it will work or not but the bag it is rated up to temperatures of 1400 degrees. All that means is that your mama can have an open casket to look at your pretty face.”
Finally I would ask if anyone wanted to chicken out and take the bus up the roads littered with IEDs. There was never anyone who wanted to do that, but the experienced guys enjoyed a laugh and the wide eyes fear in the young guys eyes. Then I would get serious for a minute. “I like to joke around but know this. I’m going to take care of you; we have been here since March and we know what we are doing. You are flying with one of the most experienced crews in the premiere Air Guard unit in the world. I want you guys to promise me something, take care of each other up there. If it is you or them, you better pull the trigger because I don’t want to haul your sorry butt out of here on a Medevac or even worse in a box. Give em hell. Haooah?”
They always replied with a Haooah. Early on in March 03, we started a tradition of asking if anyone was from West Virginia. When we found them, regardless of rank, they got to sit up front. If we couldn’t find anyone from home, then we picked the two lowest ranking people and put them up front. A couple times, we had some very ticked off Colonels ridding in the back while two Privates sat up front and had a great time. Continuing that tradition, I found a couple of candidates and took them with me while everyone else got hosed.
Little did we know that a month or so later, this tradition would put us face to face with one of the defining people of the Iraq war.
Until next time, keep on rockin.