In light rain with a ceiling of about 1800′ it was obvious we were not going to quite see the top of thousand foot falls .The waterfall sits at about 2100′ above sea level before it plummets about 1500 or more feet to the jungle below. My four passengers were photographing the falls and commenting on the deteriorating weather as we descended down river to likely better weather conditions. I had previously flown up this same river just 15 minutes earlier and I was comfortable with my options. With two high time fixed wing pilots on board the poor weather prompted questions on our IFR capabilities, (mine and the aircrafts) and what my intentions may be should conditions get worse.
Fixed wing folks think differently than us rotorheads. Not wrong, just different. They were thinking along the lines of returning to the airstrip I had picked them up from near the Blancaneaux Resort, climbing out off the strip on a published departure and filing IFR to the International Airport. A fine fixed wing plan except that the airstrip was at 1800′ and probably zero zero by now making that option unrealistic, coupled with the fact that there was no departure procedure, real or created, no certificated IFR helicopter and the pilot, (me), while IFR licensed, was not about to fly into worsening I.M.C. conditions. I explained my plan to my passengers in two sentences. Water runs downhill, we would follow the river, I.F. R. (I follow river). Rivers cross roads which are constructed in the low lying valleys and I would get on the road and fly along into better weather, I.F.R. (I follow road). A simple technique that has served me well and usually works.
There are always exceptions to any rule and I can think of a few cases where this would be not the best solution. After 33 years of flying in the mountains, employers and passengers expect that I will know what I am doing and so far so good.
Thats what we did. The jungle river under us provided a few options for landing spots on gravel bars and as we approached civilization a few river side clearings became visible. The other two passengers which were all apart of the same corporation were non pilots. Pilot to pilot conversations in remote areas inevitably include discussions on emergency landing areas. Looking down at the triple canopy jungle from a few hundred feet above, my front seat passenger commented that there were not many if any places to put a helicopter in the event that an emergency created the necessity to autorotate.
There was an audible gasp from one of the non pilots in back which we ignored and I calmly explained my jungle ditching procedure to the front seat pilot/passenger. When I was done my explanation I added that for non pilots, ignorance is bliss but when pilots get over anything beyond gliding distance to a runway or hard flat surface we like to know that the guy on the controls has some idea of what he plans to do when fate slaps him on the top of the head and says “your up”.
I go through my life always subconsciously or consciously looking at a potential situation and seeing the risk and the reward, the hazard and the solution or options. I have thought this way for my entire adult life to the point that I incorrectly assumed that almost everyone of reasonable intelligence thinks the same way.
I believe I am wrong. On a recent trip Paula and I traveled towards Belize City on the Western Hwy. Traffic was light by any countries standards and skies were clear. Professional looking cyclists were riding in groups going both ways and greeting each other with waves or head nods. I took care to pass giving lots of room and never passing when two cyclist groups converged on the same stretch. Countless times I was the only motorist doing so. Cars would pass around cyclists barely slowing as they rapidly lane changed into my lane barely missing oncoming cyclists and causing me to brake to avoid the collision or having to choose between the oncoming car or the cyclists. In the cities , vehicles and cyclists intermix in heavy traffic and the slow speed of their convergence keeps the injury rate to somebodies idea of an acceptable level.
Out here on the highway it was like none of the motorists had taken into account the much higher closing speeds and accelerated reaction time required to avoid an accident? A few minutes later entering into a left hand curve I could see two approaching vehicles one close behind the other and slightly into my lane. I would crowd the shoulder and expecting the second truck to start his pass shortly after I cleared I stayed vigilant. This was good since that same truck snap turned into my lane just feet before we met. I moved to the shoulder as smoothly and quickly as I thought I could without upsetting the RV and passed by the now swerving back and forth truck as I laid on the horn.
A millisecond before I had cast a glance at the shoulder and thought that the reflective marker posts were unusually positioned less than a foot from the roads edge but at least the shoulder was wide and level. It was the kind of subconscious thought I would never have recalled having until a squirt of adrenaline vastly improved my mental acuity, reflexes and memory.
No, not everyone spends time thinking about possible risks and looking ahead to possible dangers. It reminds me of that whole “No Fear” slogan, commonly plastered on truck windows and bumper stickers. I would like to market a sticker that you anonymously slap on after that one that says, “No Sense”.