Bob died a few days ago. He was an exceptional helicopter pilot. He didn’t die in an accident but I can’t blame anyone for thinking that it might have been a crash after reading he was a helicopter pilot. I used to argue that the type of helicopter flying I do is not that risky but I don’t say that anymore.
Bob died of cancer, or cancer related problems as is often the case with that terrible disease. Bob and I had flown at a relatively small helicopter company in British Columbia and I learned a lot about logging when I flew with him and others in the company. In reflecting back on my short time at that company it occurred to me that quite a few of the folks who I had flown with at that small British Columbia operation were dead. In fact, four others had died in helicopter accidents since those days. None of them had died while working at that particular company but all of them had died doing the type of work I do or have done over the years. If you read my previous stories you have an idea of what flying I have done for the past forty one years. I too could have been killed a few times and I choose to write about my mistakes and near misses because I see value in sharing that information with my fellow pilots. I do most everything right but sometimes that isn’t enough to save you. Its that simple and cruel.
Another friend and outstanding pilot is winding up his career soon. He might call it quits next month in fact but I hope not. I hope not for purely selfish reasons. I am going to miss flying with him.
When I first met Steve a few years back we were assigned to a Sky Crane helicopter on a fire contract in Greece. Everybody has a reputation and history in this business and there are always quite a few stories retold about the true characters of our industry. I had heard Steve Podjursky stories for years before we flew together and I have to admit I had formed a picture of the man, that frankly, was totally wrong.
Steve’s background as a deer hunter pilot, logging pilot and several stories of his adventures off and on the job had me a bit concerned about what flying with him was going to be like. I had flown with a few other Kiwi pilots with similar backgrounds and I should have given that a bit more thought. Pilots like Dick Deaker, Derek Cook, Mike Sherlock, Dennis Corrin all came with colorful histories but when you flew with them they were all business.
I have had the good fortune to fly with Steve over a few seasons of firefighting in Australia and Greece. He is a professional pilot and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it. What about those few other minutes you may ask? The funny thing is, that despite Steve’s background he is anything but a fly by the seat of the pants kind of pilot. He is meticulous and exact. A few times I’ve been asked how the 15 minute check was coming along after I had neglected to speak up. I was busy with GPS or radio or some similar lame excuse just didn’t cut it and I learned that early on when I was told, “if it was the seventeen minute check, they would call it that, wouldn’t they, you wanker.”
On more serious items Steve was tenacious in pursuing situations he wanted corrected. One such item concerned our interpreters in Greece talking on the aviation frequency to towers or similar controlling agencies.What were the legal implications of a non licensed aviator talking to a tower without any right to do so? Our interpreters now have radio licenses if they want to talk on frequency for the most part. I doubt this would have happened without some stubborn perseverance on his part.
Another item that Steve was concerned with, was briefing our interpreters on our operation and making sure they knew what to do in the event something went bad. He still does one of the most thorough flight briefings which includes helicopter underwater egress procedures. Steve was concerned that the interpreters were not passengers but crew members and as such they needed training, especially the essential helicopter under water egress training that almost all of our crew members have. I don’t think the interpreters would have been given the training without Steve pushing the subject forward.
We have all had some good times and more importantly done some very good flying over the years. I wish Steve all the best if he decides to call it a career next month, the aviation world will be missing another great pilot but at least for all the best reasons.