Keeping things in perspective

Posted on: 22nd Apr 2010

Volcanic fallout.

The first thing our team did late last week when we saw how the volcanic ash fallout was developing was accept that a worst-case scenario could be to catch a boat back home after the New York race. Another 2 months away from home. Anything better would be a bonus. Or, if we got into Europe would we be able to get out in time for the Rio race. So, we decided to stay in the S Hemisphere until the travel chaos subsides. Craig has gone to S Africa to visit family and friends. I leave tonight to do the same and Becci opted to stay here in Perth then route directly to Rio. We’ll be away from home for 34 days instead of 12 but it’s not so bad... considering.

The accident.

When we were doing the final emergency drill last week using our spare air bottle I was paired with Adilson to be submerged, upside down .. water up the nostrils, imagining the real thing as you grope for the bottle, purge, breath and wait for rescue. After that drill, I was interviewed and said exactly what I think: ”It’s good to do this training but the reality is the chances of being conscious enough to use the bottle even after a controlled ditching is very slim. That’s the nature of our sport.” Adilson had never done any scuba diving so being strapped into an aircraft cabin, submerged, flipped over and trying to breathe from a tiny air bottle was, I am sure, a tough experience for him. How ironic that it would be him doing it for real a few days later! When I heard he’d gone into the water, I had little doubt that he would not survive so, hearing he was fine brought immense the relief. I also had the chance to inspect his MXS later that day and took away a feeling of great comfort for the strength of the machine, especially the fuselage and cockpit area. From the engine firewall to the rear fuselage, it was intact with little damage. The water did pour in from a tear in the box surrounding the landing gear structure, which was torn on impact. He only had a few seconds before he was submerged; just enough time to react quickly and be on his air bottle. What he did not know as he sank, was the depth. Had he known the MXS was floating well (huge sealed cavities in the wings including the fuel empty fuel tanks) and that the emergency divers would be leaping to his rescue in well under 30 seconds, he would have stayed put I guess. Not knowing what was happening, he did what I am sure all of us would do in the circumstances and subjected himself to a traumatic 30 seconds trying to escape before they got to him. Well done to Danny and the entire rescue team. Amazing job.

There are so many positives from this experience: Adilson was unscathed, the rescue operation was flawless, the pilots had been given the underwater training (most of us twice now); the track design was such that no third party was involved etc etc. and the only negatives are those of perception. The truth is, we voluntarily participate in a risky sport and there are countless risky sports on this planet. Unlike wheeled motor sports, we have the luxury of the safety of the third dimension…just point the lift vector up and you can keep out of trouble. However, if something does go wrong as it did last week or an engine failure, the consequences for the participant are likely to be dire. We understand that and we accept it. What we have to ensure is that we continue to minimize the risk to the third party and ourselves and, now that we’ve had our first accident in the sport’s history, we need to ensure that complacency does not creep in regarding the outcome. Adi was incredibly lucky; you can’t expect to smash into the water in an aeroplane at something like 70 metres per second and get away unscathed.

I look at some other high risk sports like base-jumping and free climbing and think they must be nuts. That’s because I could not do that; I lack the knowledge, the skill and the passion. I hope those who may consider us to be somewhat crazy will respect that we understand the risks; we are passionate about what we do and we are professional in the way we go about our business.

The race.

So you top the charts after T4 and you very nearly win the Qualifying. You should be on track for the podium, if not a win. Of course I am disappointed with 4th. Who would not be?

But, it’s softened by keeping things in perspective:

  1. Early in the T12, I “knew” I’d hit a pylon so I thought the only way to get into the S8 was to tighten the angles and really go for it. I “knew” I was 12th when I hit another pylon. So, when I came off the track and saw no pylons down I was amazed and delighted. Coming 4th is like being promoted from 12 to 4. I am not sure what the thumps were as I passed those 2 gates but wonder if the upright winglets passing the pylon must have something to do with it.
  2. I was relaxed all week and thought I flew well. Certainly, I was loving it. My raceday strategy was almost perfect ... certainly my S8 went exactly to plan. Somehow, I did not manage to execute the plan perfectly in the Final and a few slack turns made for 4th place in a tough race. Being within 1.25 seconds is not that bad…. I’m still in 2nd place in the championship and the indications are that the Breitling MXS has what it takes.
  3. We had our first accident with almost exclusively positive outcomes.

All in all, it’s been a great race here in Perth and we are now heading for Rio with a spring in our step and hoping we will get home on May 11th!