Greetings and salutations! I hope this month finds you doing well! In lieu of the non-popularity of our industry by the current Administration, I wanted to take this opportunity to lighten things up a bit. Most safety professionals, when asked if they would like to say a few words, ought to respond realistically by saying, simply, “No.” We seldom have a few words. We are usually an afterthought at most meetings, and that’s why we take any opportunity to speak that we can get!
This month I’m going to get out the preachy mood and share some personal safety experiences that I’ve had over the years. Understand that the stories told are based on real experiences, but the names have been changed to protect the innocent or sometimes even the guilty! So I call it, true fiction!
Many years ago when I was working overseas, I was working 30 Days On and 30 Days Off.
Flying to and from the location was on my time. For these two years, I was forced to work on a land drilling rig in Italy. I know, rough duty, right!
Anyway, it was my first experience flying overseas. I had traveled frequently domestically but not across any ocean to speak of. My flight was scheduled to leave New York at 11:00-ish at night, and to land in Rome mid morning, counting the refueling. Well the flight was delayed due to heavy 50 mph-plus winds and rain, etc. You have to remember this was the early ’80s. About an hour after we had boarded, the pilot came on and said, “This is the pilot speaking. Sorry for the delay but we are going to attempt to take off since the worst of the storm has passed. Due to the wind and some remaining rain, we are going to take a rather fairly aggressive ascent until we are above the turbulence. It may be bumpy!” In hindsight, calling it “bumpy” was like calling Moby Dick a guppy.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sitting there on the ground, I had several issues with this pilot’s “plan.” 1. What is “aggressive”? 2. What is fairly aggressive!? 3. May be bumpy? 4. How much rain is remaining?
Then he said, “Please make sure your seatbelts are securely fastened!” This sweet older lady sitting next to me said “I’m a little nervous about this… are you nervous?” I said, “Ma’am, I’m from West Texas and it is always windy there. It will be okay. Just tighten the seat belt as tight as you can stand it without being uncomfortable. Then give it one more tug.”
I on the other hand, had cinched the seatbelt up like I was coming out of chute number 1 on WidowMaker at a rodeo! All the while I was trying to be a macho Texan representative and show how tough and brave we were.
I’m here to tell you, when the pilot said “a rather aggressive ascent” he did not say, “we will be taking off and climbing like a space shuttle!”
So off we went! All the while, people were screaming, kids were crying as we were being buffeted around. Overhead compartments were popping open, luggage falling out. It was a nightmare!
Then… lightning hit the plane and the lights went out. I may have cursed at that point. They almost instantly came back on and the captain said, “Folks, don’t be alarmed! The plane has a system that, when lightning hits, it won’t affect the plane’s ability to fly. We are okay. Calm down and stay locked ‘into your seats.’” I think everyone was praying at this point, even the pilots. I know I was.
After about two or three more minutes, we got above the storm and the plane started a “less aggressive ascent”!
Minutes later—maybe an hour, I really don’t remember that much about the time elapsing—this sweet old lady sitting next to me started talking to me. She said “Sir!?”
And I said “Yes ma’am?”
She said, “Are you okay now?”
Me: “Yes ma’am.” Trying to calm her spirits.
She: “Do you mind letting go of my leg now? It kind of hurts!”
This whole time during the flight after takeoff, I thought I was holding on to the armrest. She had never said a word.
Of course I apologized for that, and she said it helped her get past the turbulence. So much for the tough roughneck from Texas. I was skeered.
That, my friends, is a true story, without embellishment. I laugh now, but at the time, it tweren’t fun!
As always, it’s not how many hits you make in baseball. It’s how many times you reach home safely that counts!
Dusty Roach is a safety professional based in Midland. He is also a public speaker on subjects of leadership and safety, and he maintains a personal website at dustyroach.com.