At prayers on day two we receive our taskings for the next day.
“SAR 1 – Lilli, Lisa, Kal.”
And that’s new.
Because for the past two days I’ve been tasked with another SAR person. An EXPERIENCED SAR person. I’ve shadowed and followed along, taking a role in communicating with control and following our navigational movements on my own GPS.
Tomorrow I’m it.
We’re up sharp and loaded into the back of the heli as the sun rises. For the past two days the pilots have differed in how they want to handle the navigation of the aircraft. One was very independent, pointing to his own GPS “I have all the waypoints programmed in already. Just tell me the name.” Another was happy for us to shout coordinates to him over the radio and program them on the fly.
My guy today is even more chilled out.
“Meh…just tell me a heading.”
I still conflab with him on navigational issues, though, as it turns out that while “Global Positioning” coordinates are universal across the world, the manner in which they are communicated can differ in oooooh, about a billion different ways. You can express them in minutes, or degrees, or seconds, or a mixture of both, or sometimes something entirely different. In Standard Grade Geography I learned about subsistence farming, well digging, aluvian plains and OS coordinates.
OS coordinates don’t work in the desert.
To give you an idea, Wikipedia provides the following list for the SAME location.
40d 26′ 47″ N 79d 58′ 36″ W
40° 26.7717, -79° 56.93172
I will put my hands up here and say I don’t understand those. I can punch my coordinates into my GPS and navigate to that point, I can understand bearing vs heading and, given two sets of coordinates I can just about understand them in relation to each other (like, I can tell you if we’re going sorta-the-right-way-sorta).
So when my pilot tells me “Meh?” it does not instill me with joy.
But “Meh” he has said and so “meh” I must work to.
And in fact? It turns out to be pretty good fun.
I put a scientist in the front seat, letting them ride with the pilot and I sit with the medics in the back. Coordinates for our first stand by point in my GPS, my radio crackles in my headset.
“Bearing seven-five please.”
“Bearing seven-five, yes.”
And the aircraft lifts off the ground, swings the way I’ve said like a compass needle.
“We need to be comfy, but we need to get there.”
And the nose dips, the engines pick up and the heli flies away at my bidding.
It’s like having a voice activated, radio controlled helicopter.
Just as we’ve done before, we fly out to a predetermined point and SDSD; set down, shut down.
And then we received a tasking.
I know, holy shit.
An actual job.
We’re to fly out to a rider down who’s currently in the care of a sweep team, a simple enough case of dehydration, he’s to be scooped up and flown back to camp.
We’re up and away, navigating again by my sitting in the back of the heli and reciting degrees to the pilot. We’re overhead in a few minutes and, remembering the briefing about overhead photography I unclip my seat belt and sit on the floor.
“Slow orbit to starboard please.”
I grab a strap from the floor and clip one end around a metal loop in the floor, spinning the tubes on the carabiner until the latch locks shut. I rattle the crab against the hoop in the floor as hard as I can, twisting it and tugging. It’s secure.
The other end I clip to my rigger’s belt, the metal triangle resting against my pelvis. Again, I twist the crab shut at my waist and yank on it. My hip follows with it.
And then, because of what I’m about to do, I double check both ends again.
“Opening starboard door for visual.”
I check my medics are both belted to their seats, make a last check around the cabin to ensure there’s nothing loose that could whizz out into the tail rotor, grab the door handle and twist it downwards, the lock disengaging with a palpable “clunk” in my hand.
And then, several hundred feet off the floor, I slide the door of the heli open.
The noise increases exponentially, the down draft from the blades swirling into the cabin.
Sat on the floor I swing my feet out of the door and slide forwards until they’re resting on the skids.
I lean forward with the camera in hand and snap the shots you saw last week.
And this should be scary, but it’s not.
I’m so focussed on what I’m meant to be doing, there isn’t really time to think what, you know, sane people, would be thinking.
Which should be “Are you fucking joking? Get back inside the heli, knob-head.”
Photos taken, I roll my legs back into the cabin, slam the door shut and we touch down gently.
So that’s a first…