Island life as an expatriate is not always easy, however the
great memories of working with the
locals more than make up for the
less than rosy side.
I loved living
in Fiji in the mid seventies and Ian
was a great boss, giving me
tropical experiences and opportunities that I never dreamt of.
The Soloy Hiller
UH12E4 was an ideally suited economical
workhorse for all the various tasks
it was called upon to accomplish.
Shifting drill rigs on the mainland
was handled with equal ease as
long offshore trips to other
The new Hiller 12E4T in
the USA - prior to delivery
to Fiji. We often flew it with one
both doors removed.
Smoking around helicopters has always been one of those
risk factors I will not tolerate –
and everyone knows it.
The re-supply trip into the mining camp looked as if it would
be an enjoyable trip into the
With the cabin stuffed full with food supplies behind me and in the RH
seat area, the machine was not
particular overloaded as the 400 SHP Alison
C20 turbine hummed along while the
pleasant little old wizened up,
toothless Fijian replacement camp cook
squashed into the left hand seat
behind me beamed
and babbled while enjoying his first
flight in a helicopter.
The mine was in a ravine with the landing pad simply a
ledge jutting out from a cliff about half way down
I could just about put nearly the
front half of the skids on
the ledge, while the remaining 60% of
the machine was balanced in mid air hanging
over a vertical drop of about 300 ft
to the creek below.
The lack of room
meant that I never actually fully landed
the machine, rather it was a matter
of reducing the main rotor pitch
slightly so that the front of the skids had
some weight on the ground.
the pitch further would
made the machine tip backwards into
I also had to be watchful and careful as the wind would occasionally
push up the ravine and hit underneath
the large surface area of the twin
horizontal stabilisers at the rear
of the tail boom.
This caused the
machine to tilt forward and the
rotor blades came close (inches
away) to the cliff
face. Those of you have done it know
that this was was enjoyable flying.
On this occasion there was no wind, only the rotor down
wash to sweep across the ledge as I
came into touch down.
It was standard drill, due the lack of room, for two
blokes at the mine (whose job it was
to unload the machine while I held
it steady) to come to the front of
the machine as the skids touched down so
that they weren’t under the rotor
blade tips - should they sail down
and scone someone on the head due an updraft
pushing on the tail.
I reckon that the big
- and I mean BIG - Fijian bloke smoking a cigarette must
have broken the scales at 180 Kg –
it’s a wonder the landing pad didn’t
break away from the hill.
knew from the dark look on my face that I
was mad as hell at him for breaking
the rules by smoking
and he also knew I could do nothing
about it at that particular moment.
Trouble suddenly rose when the cook
in the open cabin behind me wanted to let everyone
know that he had arrived in the big
He stood up, opened the LH door,
jutted his head and shoulders outside
and then .......put one foot and most of his 65
Kg weight just behind my hand on the
collective pitch lever as he used it
to steady himself while waving
his mates with one hand.
I struggled a loosing battle to hold the collective up
the dreadful down pressure caused by cooky's
weight and then we started to tilt
backwards ever so slowly into the
The more I turned and yelled at him to shift his bloody
foot, the more the cook waved to his
mates and didn’t have a clue what
was going on.
I remember the artistic side of my brain thinking
that it looked like we were going to
have an interesting and unusual view
of the world after I ran out of control and the
machine fell backwards and upside
into the ravine, when suddenly, the
dreadful tipping stopped.
Looking up and out – I saw that the big guy on the pad must
have thought I was yelling at him
instead of the cook as
he had cupped his cigarette in his hands
to keep it out of the rotor down-wash and then sat on the
helicopter's RH front skid cross
tube with his back to me in an act
Breathing a sigh of relief, I eventually belted the cook off the collective lever
with my elbow and head (another good
reason to wear my flight helmet) and
was able to restore normality.
To this day – I don’t mind if people smoke – as long as
they are stubborn, weigh at least