Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back in Indiana Part 2

I've only been on the new job a short while, and things are not going too well.  All that beautiful greenery I had seen earlier during the summer months on my first visit, was now gone.  The sky was spitting snow almost everyday and it was getting bitterly cold.  The trees were all bare of leaves and my Butternut Yellow Chevrolet convertible with the white top was getting covered everyday with rusty iron dust that was coming from the smoke stacks of the steel mills over in Gary, Indiana. I was not having any luck finding a place to live and the moving van had arrived with all my stuff and no place for me to put it.  One of the guys had some extra room in his garage over in Valparaiso, so that would do for a while.  That business of running around in the night half cocked with the airplane over Lake Michigan really got my attention.  New job or not, I made it clear, that I was there to fly helicopters and in no uncertain terms, do not ask me to do any more stupid flights involving airplanes.  In a pinch, I would, if asked, but only if it were on my terms and to my liking.  Financially, we were kind of on the edge.  It was winter and not to many options were on the horizon.  I had not given up, but I did start taking stock of things.  These were really great people, but just did things a bit different than what I was use too.  Dick Caldwell undoubtedly was one of the best airplane pilots I have ever met.  He could find
that little uncontrolled airport in Griffith, Indiana in a blinding snow storm.  He would drop down near the ground and fly the airplane on approach to the airport by using landmarks he had previously known about.  But he was also a bit crazy in my opinion.  He was a hard worker and charged full speed ahead most of the time.  Things were also going very slow with the helicopter program over at Gary.  I was finding things to do with the helicopter to keep me busy and earn my keep.  I did train several pilots and did a lot of photo flights around the steel mill complexes.  One morning I came to work very early.  Jimmy Doyle a new company pilot was just lining up for takeoff at the Griffith airport with one of the companies Cessna twin engine 310's.  He had two other people on board that were hitching a ride to wherever he was going.  I noticed a lot of snow on the runway and it had not been plowed yet that morning.  It must of been at least a foot deep and maybe more in places.  I heard the engines come up on power, and then Jimmy released the brakes and headed down the runway.  When the conditions are like this, it's not easy to see the edges of the runway, even with the snowbanks on each side..  Shortly afterwards, about halfway down the runway, the aircraft then came to an abrupt stop and it flipped up over on it's topside.The props made a horrendous noise when they made contact with the ground.  The vertical stabilizer (tail) smashed into the ground and the cabin roof collapsed.  I ran down to the airplane and the two young men on board were climbing out of the cargo door on the side of the airplane.  When the airplane came to a stop, Jimmy went forward and hit his head on the instrument panel.  He was bleeding and dazed but still conscious.  I could not get the cabin door open because it had buckled from the impact.  Also I could see a lot of smoke coming from the engines, but no fire was visible yet. The ground was covered with high octane fuel and I wasn't sure we could get him out in time.  I crawled inside the aircraft through the rear cargo door and grabbed a hold of the collar of Jimmy's leather jacket. The airplane was upside down and everything inside was a mess.  I  squeezed him through the small space between the tops of the cabin seats and the roof of the airplane.  I was able to get him out of the aircraft through the rear cargo door before anything else happened.  I carried Jimmy to my car and drove him to the ER at the Griffith hospital.  I couldn't see waiting for the emergency crews.  He had a nasty bump on his forehead and several cuts to his face that required stitches, other than that he was okay.  The airplane was really badly damaged and was salvaged for parts.  The next day Dick fired Jimmy.  I pleaded with Dick to give him another chance and he conceded and kept him employed.  Jimmy and I were really great friends and I later trained him for his helicopter rating.  I was only at this job for about six months, but there is still much more to tell in the next post...................

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