Friday, January 12, 2007

The Odd Angry Snow Flake

"Snow ending in the afternoon. The Valley can expect up to 10-15 cm." The radio bellowed as I drove myself to the airport.
"10 to 15" I thought, damn that's twice it has snowed . I thought I moved to this coast to avoid this. One thing was for sure, weather, again would lead the cast. At least this time I'm on Chopper duty this week.

The ramp as we are about to leave on "the mission"

When I arrived at the hangar, snow crews were already clearing the runways and ramps. There wasn't too much on the ground, maybe 2-4 cm. The skies to the west and to the south looked brighter. Perhaps I would be able to salvage some quality flight time after all. Surely there would be no shortage of carnage and chaos on the roads. Easy work for a helicopter in fair skies. Yes all of the weather scribes foretold "snow ending around noon".

It had been a disappointing week thus far. Monday's skies were filled with low cloud and poor visibility. A big fat zero in the flight hours department. Tuesday was not much better, but we flew the show and at least got in the air. Here it was Wednesday and bad weather again was potentially keeping us on the ground. But the voice said "snow ending by early afternoon"

Kink and I scanned the skies. "You're right Mur, it's looking better to the west."

All of a sudden, the phone rang. This wasn't any phone, it was the land line, the Bat Phone, the red phone, well actually it a cheap cordless and it's white, but either way it was Gregg on the line.
"Chopper down, highway 1 near Abbottsford! Launch!" Gregg's voice always has a flair for the dramatic. "I'll blackberry Kink the details!"
I run downstairs to get Brian our pilot. I tell him what's up. He and the rest of the Talon gang are enjoying chat with their coffee. The group mood changes with the news. I didn't realize that Talon had a machine headed in that direction and that he had departed 40 minutes ago. The words "helicopter down" have a way of sucking the air out of any aviation company's gathering. Denise quickly called up the pilot in question. Peter answers. The downed machine in question is not one of ours.

We quickly get a code, and begin spooling up the machine. Brian our pilot says, it's not looking too good to the east, we can try, but we may have to turn around.
We launch.

"Vancouver base, Chopper 9. We are shooting Seymour, heading to the Valley."
"Roger Chopper 9, we have a lock and are tracking, tape is rolling." The voice crackles in my headset.
I let Vancouver base know that the ceiling is very low and we are attempting to follow the river to our target area. The snow has now picked up as we cross Richmond Square outbound.
Another voice from Vancouver base interrupts.
"We have reports of whiteout conditions around the target area, will you still be able to fly out and get us some pictures?"
Before I open my key to answer the obvious, we mock and laugh at the absurdity of the question.
When I open my key, I reply in a dead pan voice "Negative, we will be unable to fly in those conditions"

As we fly east past the Alex Frasier Bridge the ceiling is falling. Brian is concentrating and talking to the tower. We are giving the mission the old college try. But as we approach the Port Mann and look to the east there is a wall of cloud and snow.
"What do you guys want to do?" he says into the intercom. "We can make it for now, do you want to turn around and head back or land at Pitt Meadows. The weather is supposed to clear in a couple of hours."
It is decide that the Pitt Meadows airport is a good option so we begin our descent into Pitt. As we come in Peter's bright yellow A-Star is parked just in front of the tower. Peter is waiting out the weather here as well.
We land and secure the machine.

Kink exits Chopper 9 at Pitt Meadows. Notice the lack of snow on the ground

Pitt Meadows airport is a friendly place. It is the home base for our new rival in the sky Global's "Global One" or as we call it Chopper "eleven". The airport also has a small cafe. This is where we find Peter and his client, enjoying a sandwich.
A hot soup and a sandwich seems like a great idea as we wait out the weather. It's just about noon anyway and the weather is due to improve.

Peter and Murman waiting for that "snow ending by noon"

But the weather, well it had other ideas. The snow began to accumulate. It seemed that the "fast moving weather front" thought lunch at the Pitt Meadows airport was a good idea as well. It like the food so much that it stalled and hung over for hours.

Brian clearing flight surfaces when we still believed we would be getting out

Brian getting hit by the "odd angry snow flake" as he clears the rear stablizer

The ADIS recording said it all, " VFR- Closed- IFR Closed- Special VFR Closed- Visibility zero-zero.

Damn we are stranded.


I call the desk to let them know what's happening. Our availability for the shows, some 4 hours away might be in jeopardy. I am told the conditions down town are light snow, "the odd angry snow flake" but the sky was brightening.

One blackberry message suggested that we "Take off and fly to 1500 ft and fly west"
Ya right, the author of aforementioned message has never heard of the term "spacial disorientation." It's a term that can kill you. In a hurry. I can only hope that it was someone trying to be funny.

Pilot Brian Douglas reacts to the "message"

As we look at our watches, time and daylight is winding down. This "snow ending by noon" must mean noon tomorrow.

A second expedition is mounted from base camp to the helicopters

The temps are dropping. Brian and I go out into the blizzard to batten down the machine. I have come to the realization that the machine will be spending the night in the cold and we will be hitching a ride back to the hangar. We will mount a rescue mission at first light.

Reaching the pole, sir Brian Douglas and his team prepare the helicopter for a long cold night

Kink, thinking he can escape manual labour, is put to work clearing the snow on the terminals entrance

Kink and Capt. Douglas, glad to be headed home

1 comment:

Widescreen said...

Nice to see some cooler weather. Nothing but heat and fires here.