Posted 3 years 73 days ago ago by Randy Mains
When I speak to new pilots in the industry at HeliSuccess in Las Vegas, I stress the importance of maintaining one’s integrity and recount the most impactful decision I ever made. Following my moral compass, would mean losing my job and potentially destroy a dream I’d had for 10 years—flying a helicopter in Southern California.
The crossroads came in March 1980 when I was flying for Rocky Mountain Helicopters on a HEMS program out of Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix. My former Army buddy, Joe Sulak, and I were temporarily on contract waiting to learn if Rocky would win the bid against Evergreen helicopters to land the University of California-San Diego Life Flight contract. We were told we would set up the program if they got the contract
Then the rug got pulled.
Early one Sunday morning I was presented a moral dilemma that would test my integrity to the maximum. Looking back on it now, my decision was one of the most profound I would ever make in my life.
My boss on the phone that morning began, “Don’t ask any questions, Randy, just listen. Offload all the hospital’s medical equipment from the Allouette. Don’t tell the hospital what you’re doing and fly it to Provo, Utah.”
“One of our EMS helicopters crashed in Iowa last night, killing the pilot and two medical personnel. We need your Alouette up there ASAP to replace it.”
I was stunned at hearing the tragic news and numbed at the request.
“But we can’t do that,” I said. “What’ll the hospital think? How can we leave them in the lurch? What about the contract obligations? And besides, you know the people in San Diego will certainly find out Rocky is pulling a stunt like this; they’ll get cold feet and sign the contract with Evergreen instead.”
“Just do it, Randy. We have our reasons for making this decision,” was my boss’s curt reply.
“Well it’s wrong, morally and business-wise.”
My head was a jumble of thoughts, most of them bad. I could see Joe’s and my chances of flying in San Diego dissolving.
“I don’t know if I can do it,” I told my boss. “It isn’t right.”
“We all have our decisions to make, Randy.”
After hanging up, I sat on the edge of the hospital bed in shock at what I’d been asked to do. I was also reeling after hearing about the EMS helicopter crash in Iowa and the three people who had lost their lives. I called Joe who was equally taken aback by the unreasonable request.
He said, “I’ll call Provo and get back to you.”
I waited a very long 15 minutes for Joe’s call. “I can’t believe it, Randy. They want the machine there by noon. I reluctantly told them I’d do it. If Rocky didn’t owe me nearly a thousand dollars in back expenses, I wouldn’t do it, but I’m afraid if I don’t, I’ll never see that money. What will you do?”
“I’ve thought about it, Joe, and I can’t go along with this.”
“You’ll be fired, you know?”
“Yeah, I know, but I can’t morally do it, Joe. It’s not right.”
“I feel the same way, Randy, but I feel I’ve got no option. If Rocky does manage to get the contract in San Diego I’ll be lead pilot. For that reason, and the money they owe me, I have to take that gamble.”
There was a long silence as we both weighed the gravity of the situation.
I spoke first. “Well, Joe, I guess that’s it, then. We’ll just have to sit tight and see how this all plays out. I hate it, but I can’t go through with it.”
“I understand, partner. We’ll just have to see what happens then.”
I stood on the helipad throwing a wave goodbye, as Joe took off from the hospital helipad in the bright orange Alouette III. I went back to my room in the hospital to call my wife to tell her that I was now out of a job and that our dream of going to San Diego would probably not happen.
The hospital administrator was understandably irate, but thanked me for not going along with Rocky’s request, praising me for standing my ground. He told me he had called Evergreen and they said that they would have another helicopter there by late afternoon to take over the contract. He asked if I would stay at the hospital until it arrived to brief the new pilot about the operation. I said I would and waited a long six hours gazing into an uncertain future.
At 5:00 p.m. that early evening, a manager with Evergreen landed a brand new A-Star on the helipad where that morning the orange Alouette III had been parked. After introducing himself, the manager told me he had never flown on a HEMS program and said Evergreen would hire me to fly on the top stretcher of the A-Star and guide him through it. I said I would and with that, I now had a new employer.
We managed to get through that first night, me on the top stretcher talking him through the flight, telling him when to make radio calls, and navigating for him. Between flights I gave him a quick course in becoming a HEMS pilot.
Evergreen did win the San Diego contract over Rocky Mountain. I was told that because of my HEMS experience I would go to San Diego to set up the program, an event that would change my life immeasurably.
My son would meet his future wife and have two beautiful girls. When UCSC Medical Center became the first hospital-based IFR program in America I would meet a British pilot working for the Royal Oman Police in the flight simulator in Fort Worth who would change my life forever.
That of course, is another story.
Randy Mains is an author, public speaker, and a CRM/AMRM consultant who works in the helicopter industry after a long career of aviation adventure. He currently serves as chief CRM/AMRM instructor for Oregon Aero. He may be contacted at [email protected]