Flight Quarters

[from the stabenow.com vaults, first posted February 9, 2004]

Man, I’m tired, and all I did was watch.

the port wing of the bridge - 2/6/04

More or less clear skies (what’s a little hail between friends?). We spent most of the day in the lee of St. George in the Pribilofs, waiting on weather. You should see the NOAA weather forecasts for the Bering Sea, they alternate between “gale” and “hurricane.”

This morning we launched the helo and then did a safety boarding of a fishing vessel. A safety boarding is just what it sounds like–a boarding team of ten boards the vessel via a Zodiac to check if the F/V has enough survival suits, if their life rafts are functional, if the Epirb (emergency locater beacon) is working, like that.

What impressed me most was the courtesy. When we called to announce our boarding, the F/V wanted to pick another pot and we said sure and waited until they were between strings. Shortly after we boarded they started picking pots again, and worked right through the boarding, pulling Pacific cod (they call it p-cod) and rebaiting and resetting the pots. I’ve heard, oh, probably half a dozen of the Coasties I’ve met so far say that they are not in the business of getting in the way of people making a living. It shows. Within the constraints of doing their duty, part of which is monitoring and enforcing safety regulations and harvest seasons within American territorial waters, they try very hard to interfere as little as possible with fishermen doing their jobs.

I think Someone (who shall remain nameless but I bet occupies the captain’s cabin) has been reading this blog, because after I said here yesterday I was happy to watch the landing and hot fueling of the helo from the bridge, today I was suited up and sent down to the flight deck when it was time for the helo to land.

I’m still reswallowing my heart. There was a mild 40 knot wind howling down out of the north and the swells were doing nothing except get higher. Aviator Dan Leary said the deck was pitching a little high during the first attempt and so they did a go-around. The second time they plunked her right down in the gold, although I sure didn’t detect any lessening of wind or swell, but by then the aviators had a handle on the conditions. Dan says the flight crew has an unwritten contract with the families of everyone working the flight, that the crew will not do anything to put the lives of their loved ones in jeopardy.

You could prove it by me. I was watching all this crouched on the port side. The helo flies aft, turns around and approaches slowly from the stern. The bigger the helo gets, the smaller the deck looks. Then, whump, they’re down, and the deck crew duck-walks out with tie downs and fuel hoses. The hot refueling done, the engine shuts down, the rotors stop, the flight crew exits, the mechs fold up the rotors and the crew pushmepullyous the helo into the hangar, the hangar unfolds and the hangar door comes down. Mission accomplished.

Helo photo op - 2/6/04

The following week I will watch them do a mid-air refueling. The helo hovers over our port stern and drops a line. The deck crew lets it hit the deck before they touch it to ground it, because the rotors cause a lot of static electricity. The deck crew fastens the fuel hose to the line, the helo crew hauls it back up and refuels the helo.

It’s pretty much jaw-dropped time all the time around here, for me anyway. For the crew, it’s business as usual.

I can’t fly with the helo because I’m a civilian. The best, and pretty much the only, reason I can think of for jumping overboard–they’d have to come rescue me. But I’m pretty sure that at that point the whole crew would decide I wasn’t worth saving.

Plus we got a fly-by of a C130 en route from Kodiak to St. Paul. The action was by air and sea both today.

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