A Christmas Thought. By Owen Zupp

 

 

Perhaps it’s the time of the year. As the son of an aerial ambulance pilot and an ‘Ambo’ in my own right for four years, Christmas always stirs emotions in the vault. I cannot help but think of the selfless guys and girls that will be away from the families this Christmas in order to keep total strangers safe.

In particular I recall a Christmas Eve a few years past when a Paramedic died attempting to rescue another as he was winched below the beating blades towards rugged rock faces. And a Medevac flight some years ago that crashed and killed all on board. They are now headlines that have long faded, but the memories still remain clear. Each one a tragedy that left families and friends forever changed.

It is an aspect of aviation that operates almost by stealth. Aside from the occasional news bulletin showing a stranded sailor being winched on board a helicopter as it hovers above the waves, little is there to be seen. Like an iceberg, the greatest mass of their effort floats silently beneath the surface. All the while we sleep a little more soundly knowing that they are there should we need them.

And on those dark nights when we are loathe to venture out, they are landing on highways illuminated by car lights or descending into some obscure clearing that glows green through the night-vision-goggles. Often their operations are at the edge of the limitation of man and machine in a realm that most never venture. We sit safely, secure in our buffer zones with clear skies and fair winds.

Theirs is not bravado, but acceptable risk resulting from hours upon hours of training and rehearsing. Years of experience that can be channelled into moments of intense concentration and selfless effort. And still, sometimes it can still go wrong and loss of life results. In spite of this their comrades must still maintain their focus and respond should the alarm sound in the very next minute.

In the broader community the execution of aviation is too often maligned. The noisy airports are always too close and nobody wants a flightpath within a thousand miles of their backyard. They see aircraft as dangerous vehicles waiting to fall from the sky and carelessly pumping out pollutants in the meantime. Everyone wants the security and safety on offer, but no-one wants it next door. And that thumping overhead, the one that stirred them from their sleep was more than a mere disturbance, more than a nuisance. It was the rotors carefully lifting a young child from one hospital bed to another where a team of surgeons was waiting.

 

  

Aviation wears many clothes. Those which the general public perceive are the necessary evil of airliners and the light aircraft that make up the sport of kings. If the truth be known, those airliners contribute to the nation’s economy in so many ways, while most aircraft owners and private pilots are scratching to find the funds to pursue their passion. However, in the public arena perception can become reality and the good is washed away by the media-conjured controversy.

Immune to the barbs, the heroes in our midst keep going about their work; training and preparing, always at the ready for the phone to ring. And when it does ring, they are on the move in minutes. Flight plans are compiled in minutes and briefings pieced together as the few known facts are relayed. Enroute the picture may evolve a little further, but often the flights are made into the relative unknown.

Only when they arrive can a full appreciation of the task at hand be grasped and a plan of attack enacted. Whether it calls for the extrication of an injured person or the tactical drop of retardant on an uncontrollable fire-front, the crew must adapt to the situation in front of them. And when the training template doesn’t quite fit, they must adapt, improvise and overcome, all the while keeping the safety of their crew and their craft paramount.

Should the cards fall cruelly as they did this week and another life is lost, we should all pause and truly consider what has occurred. A father, a son, a sister or wife has left this world in the process of protecting another. Be it property or life at stake, this person has given up their tomorrows to help total strangers in their time of need. Their intent had always been to return home safely, but always in that suppressed corner of the mind they also knew there was a chance they might just not make it one day....but not today.

Military and civilian, professional and volunteer, men and women. They are a special breed that places the welfare of others so highly. Their availability is around the clock and without question with family lives are ruled by rosters. They have missed more birthdays and been late for more dinners than they care to remember. Yet, tomorrow they will once again don their flying suits with reflective stripes and secure the helmets that complete their anonymity.

Bright crests on their shoulders and the flanks of their machines denote their cause, but only a small embroidered patch on the chest identifies the individual. For most, that is how they wish it to be, for they are part of a team and it is only as a functioning team that they can overcome their significant challenges. A small name tag is fine by them; those that matter already know their name.

Their anonymity should not exclude them from our admiration and support. We should recognise what it is they do every day, far away from the headlines. They are true heroes and like so many real heroes, they are too often forgotten.

Merry Christmas from 'The Pilot's Blog'.


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