Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12th, 2011

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw

There is an old song about ‘a mouse living in a windmill in old Amsterdam’, and I wonder whether the mouse in question has a descendent living in Hong Kong. Last week an ‘unauthorised excursion’ by a rodent caused a Nepalese Boeing 757 to be grounded. Apparently, the week before, on the same aircraft, a mouse escaped – and was caught. The authorities claim that this is a ‘different mouse’. All of the passengers were put up in hotels, one may assume at the mouse’s expense – or perhaps amusement. The aircraft is not allowed to fly with a mouse aboard, unless suitably restrained in a cage. It is quite clear that as much as all passengers must have their belts fastened, so must mice be in cages, or the Captain should refuse to fly. There is a lot of safety sense in this… a rampant mouse may chew wires or controls and, possibly create a little mayhem if found meandering around the seats of the first class cabin!

I did once have a mouse nest in a wing, and a birds nest on an engine, whilst operating light aircraft in France, but I must admit to never having had a mouse aboard an aircraft that I have flown in Ghana. I have had snakes, lizards, scorpions, spiders, grasshoppers, praying mantis, wasps nests, a squirrel and on one occasion a tenacious tsetse fly that hung onto a wing for the entire flight. Clearly, as a bush pilot, preparing for ‘live stock of the unwanted nature’ is paramount to survival. Interestingly, I do know of pilots who regularly fly with their dogs. There exist special harnesses for dogs in small planes, perhaps most importantly for the mountain rescue teams. There is at least one such pilot operating the same class as of aircraft as used in Ghana, who regularly flies rescue missions with a dog in the co-pilots seat!

Securing the load appropriately is important whether it is alive or not, and that is true in planes, cars, trucks, trains and boats. Aircraft and boats are particularly sensitive to ‘bad loading’ and ‘overloading’. Either, and especially a combination of both, is likely to result in an unexpected expense – either material or corporal.

This, sadly, has been the case on the River Sene leg of Lake Volta last week, here in Ghana, with the loss of many lives, may their souls rest in peace and may their families find solace in their faith, friends and family at this time. As I have said before in this column, and no doubt will say it again, ‘all regulations have a tombstone’. Should these people have crossed over, through their watery grave, without a change in procedure, application, regulation, enforcement, policy and the approach to Search and Rescue, then, sadly, their deaths are in vain. However, if we can muster the roses of positive development out of these ashes of disaster, then, and only then, can the families of those affected know that, in the death of their loved ones, a positive outcome for future generations has been established from this incident.

Sadly, the civilian volunteer, Search and Rescue team at Kpong Airfield were not informed early enough to get an airborne search and rescue out in the golden twenty four hours from incident. Light aircraft are incredibly useful in the search for survivors. The ability to fly ‘low and slow’ in safety is a crucial part of their role in the searching component of the response team. Once located, rescue teams can quickly reach the site and take appropriate action.

Every hour that passes, and especially every night, the chances of a successful recovery diminish. Ideally, search aircraft should be able to operate from an airfield close to the scene of the incident. Perhaps, more community led rural airfields especially for development and for use in emergencies should become a priority for our nation, as we value our citizens as mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters and children with the priceless value of life in their souls.

SOS is the international ‘distress call’ and it means ‘Save Our Souls’. Reaching out from these pages, let us please seek to ensure that all is done by every citizen to respect the value of life, not only in their day-to-day operations but also in the response to an emergency or disaster.

Appropriate vehicles on the road, on the water and in the air. Sensible loading – in weight limitations, in distribution and in the securing of the load. Appropriate regulations and policing of the operations, and an appropriate response in the event of breaching the regulations affecting the movement of goods and people across the nation.

There are those who respect the rules, even when the rules themselves are not appropriate to the situation, rules that exist from a time and reason now past, and in need of ‘review’. For those the frustration levels are high when they see others breaking the rules and then watch helplessly whilst folks die or are maimed through their inability to effect a fast enough change of pace of the status quo.

Every single person in this nation has a responsibility towards the protection of life on our roads, on our waterways and in the air, be it from overloading and poor maintenance, over-speeding or recklessness – for we all see it, but what action are we taking, apart from shaking our heads and saying ‘what a shame?’

It is not easy, and I will admit that I have had more problems from stopping overloaded vehicles and asking the authorities to intervene than the perpetrators of endangerment, and have pretty much stopped ‘getting involved’, but I know that it is wrong.

Perhaps, we should all make a point of pointing out to one tro-tro driver, boat operator or other person we find this week, who by their actions, inactions or attitudes are putting lives at risk – and to then making a short written report to the relevant authorities. Perhaps it would help… or perhaps it would just fall on deaf ears, once again, and we will all sit back and wait for the next rash of deaths followed by hollow announcements and shrug our shoulders, shake our heads and proclaim ‘what a shame?’

Know where the shame really lies if YOU are not fighting with all your might for changes that improve the lives of those around you, and especially of those you do not know, for it is all of our responsibilities and we need to take it ‘seriously seriously’ and now – or accept our personal part of the blame for the next unnecessary incident and, potentially, death.

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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