Friday, March 16, 2007

"The Cat's in the Cradle"

Monday was "Take your son/daughter to Work Day". Five years ago I had my first experience with this day when my grade nine daughter, Sarah accompanied me to work as part of a school assignment. This year it was my son's turn. Ben wanted to wait and go during my flight week rotation. This way he thought, he would be guaranteed a ride. I had warned him that weather could ground us and his day would be disappointing. But he was undaunted. He wanted to go to the hanger and so I would take him.

The day before Ben's big day, I looked at the forecast. Rain and wind. Two things that could very well keep us on the ground. However it had been raining very hard and with the snow pack, that could spell flooding. I warned Ben as he readied himself for bed, that it could be a big day and he should expect an early wake up call.
"How early?" he asked
"Very early" I told him.
He was not happy with the prospect of getting up too early for what is supposed to be a school project. He was banking on the usual start time of my typical flight shift of 10 am.

Like I had predicted the evening before, my cell rang just before 7.
"Murman, it's Dave" the voice on the other end of the line said.
It would be an early call in. Flooding and mudslides on the Trans Canada.

"Get Up Ben! We are leaving in five minutes."
"Get movin' this is the real world and if you are not in the truck in 5 then I will leave without you."
Needless to say, he was ready to go in time.

I was glad he was going to get at least some flight time. He loves flying. I was just glad to be in the air especially after my last so called flight week chasing down and recovering "Wilson".
Kelsy would be our pilot for the day. Kink would be in a bit later. We would fly our first mission without Kink aboard. The heavy rain had stopped and we wanted to get flooding pics before the water receded. Word of huge mudslides near Rosedale made it clear that this indeed would be a good day for Ben to fly along.
We flew off to the east shooting a number of requested areas. Then on to the slide areas. Once over the highway past Chilliwack it was clear that the roads would be closed for some considerable time. I shot the crap out of it. Ben watching intently, but quietly. We headed into Chilliwack to fuel up and I called the desk to get the game plan. We would return to pick up Kink and since the slides would be the hardest to access on the ground, that would be our primary assignment.

Ben in the back seat to begin our second flight mission, back to the mudslides that have closed Highway 1 to the east of Chilliwack. Kink had now joined us and we were off.

On our flight back out to Rosedale, we had been tasked to gather a few more flooding shots for other reporters working on the ground. I was too busy to notice what Ben was up to. Silently he listened to the chatter on the headset and watched the old man work. The flight time was adding up. When we arrived back at the slide area we discovered that there was not just one or two slide closing roads, we counted 11. Five were major. Clearly it would be days before the roads would be open again. The only access to Hope and the interior was Highway 7 and traffic would be slower on those two lane roads. For those of you not familiar with the topography of the area, the Highway runs along the Fraser River Valley from Chilliwack to Hope. Along the west bound lanes you will find the Fraser River and beside the west bound lanes , steep mountains and mountain creeks flowing to the river. Perfect land slide conditions. Just add lots of rain. Sunday's "Pineapple Express" did just that.

A frame grab of one of the larger slides that took out both east bound and west bound lanes of Highway 1. There was also damage to the main railroad track just below the west bound lanes.

A tractor trailer caught in another side. This truck was headed west bound toward Chilliwack and onto Vancouver.

When we spotted the truck caught up in the side we went in for a closer look. We discovered the driver in the cab waiting for crews to dig him out. We were to meet a Transportation and Highways official near this slide. Kelsy took the aircraft down to recon a potential landing area.

A closer look at the Cab of the Tractor. You can see the debris that enveloped the vehicle.

Kelsy brought us in for a landing just to the west of the stranded truck. We touched down in the fast lane westbound Highway 1. I had my ENG kit with me and once we had established that there was in fact a driver with the rig. Kink and I had to talk to him. Now at this point, Ben is wanting to come along with us to have a closer look at the slide. By this time there is a work crew with a front end loader working the scene. So the scene is looking like a construction zone.
"Ben, you are to stay here with Kelsy and the Helicopter."
"But Dad, I want to go with you over to the truck" he pleads.
"Ben there is heavy equipment, there is mud up to your knees and it is not a place for a teenager, you stay here , it is non negotiable." God I hate when I sound like my own father in these situations, but I needed to do my job and I couldn't worry about what and where he was in a potentially dangerous situation. ( later that evening when we were home, I explained why he could not go in for a closer look, he understood. But what young lad wouldn't have wanted to go in for a closer look)

Kink and I went over and collected some ground elements for our story. The bonus was interviewing the Truck Driver about his account of the slide trapping his rig. The unfortunate by product of the quest was mud up to our knees, and wet feet. A price we were willing to pay.

Chopper 9 on Highway 1 about 100 yards from the working crews trying to free up the stricken truck.

Ben, Kelsy and Kink just before we leave the scene. Notice the mud on Kink's pants. We had been in mud up to our knees during our quest to speak to the driver of the stranded truck.

By now we had collected a number of shots of several slides along this stretch and at this particular slide where we had landed, our tape included clips from a stranded truck driver and a Highway's official. We had more than we could possibly use. We looked at our watches. The day was slipping away very fast. Deadline was a fast moving target baring down on us. We took off and again flew into Chilliwack. I convinced Kink to write and voice while on the ground. Ben and Kelsy grabbed some food and we took on fuel. I would edit on the flight back to Vancouver.

Editing for me is a process that takes rhythm. As we took off I thought that Ben might like to have a go with the FLIR Camera. I switched up the FLIR on one of the monitors and place the controller ("Wilson") on his lap. I gave him a quick lesson with the joystick and zoom rocker and told him I needed to edit.
He began to pick random things out, along the flight home, and try to follow them keeping them in frame. As I edited our story, I would occasionally catch a glance to what he was doing with the camera and was impressed that he was able to keep cars and other moving targets in frame.
His hand/eye coordination should be great if playing video games on the X Box is any indicator.
We landed back at YVR, I still had about 4 edits left to complete for the package. I would continue on the ground using shore power to finish and feed. Time was very tight. I had just enough time to finish, go and have a pee and we were back up for the 5 and 6 shows. Ben seemed very excited. I suppose he was happy the day was finally coming to a close. We did our hits and after I had been cleared I gave Ben the controller back. Knock yourself out I said as we rounded Kits Beach headed to the Point Grey Arrival into YVR. This time I watched with pride as my son searched for potential targets. The crew up front had been impressed with Ben's aptitude for the FLIR. Kelsy said something about a tugboat to the right and before I knew it Ben had acquired and framed the tug that was some distance away. Yes Father was proud of his boy.

Ben using the FLIR, trying to put the Old Man out of a job.

His tug shot

When we landed, the day had began at 7 am. It was now just after 7 PM. We had flown for 6.8 hours and he wonder why he was tired. During the drive home the lad who was so quiet in the helicopter, didn't stop asking questions.

"Do you think CTV might need someone to fill in this summer Dad?"
"You know, I could do your camera on the helicopter, It doesn't seem to be all that hard Dad."

I just sighed, and realized,,,,,,,,

"my boy was just like me,,,,,,,my boy was just like me"


Doug said...

Good stuff... keep it coming! And find me a job when I come home. I wouldn't mind some flight time myself!


turdpolisher said...

Cool story.

Too bad, sound's like your kid is hooked on a low-pay, high-thrills career.

Murman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.