Saturday, November 05, 2011

Sand storm 1983

Many people talk about the day the Mallee came to Melbourne. Everyone I know has a story about where they were when it hit. What they were doing. What the sand storm meant for them.

I am always able to stump everyone, when asked about where I was. And I see their quiet disbelieving look, cos sometimes I don't believe it myself. This was the week before the Ash Wednesday bush fires in 1983.

But I was 3,000 feet up in the air in the Channel Seven news chopper, a Bell something, (I'm not a pilot) when we ran into the big brown thumping wave of sand. It threw us around quite a bit. Over the years I have struggled with memories but I will never forget the look on the chopper pilot's face. I definitely know at at one stage, I was looking up at the ground.

As we lifted off the pad at Port Melbourne that morning, we'd heard reports of a cool change, and nothing more. I wasn't until we were over the Dandenong Ranges (about 40kms east), that the newsroom chimed in on the radio over everyone's headsets, alerting us to the approaching 'spectacle'.

The newsroom COS kept telling us to 'go to ground', and don't try to ride it. "land where ever you can!" We continued down east to get the story we started out to do. I don't think it had sunk in.

We had been filming at the bush fires down outside Moe earlier that day. That was a separate experience even of itself. We'd dropped out of the sky to a blackened farm land. A couple of stunned farmers surveyed the wreckage after the fires had been at their stock. Crowds of sheep piled up against a fence, mostly dead, some still burning. Farmers shooting those in pain. I was so glad to lift off again.

Back in flight, I think the pilot decided to heed the warning and land instead of getting above the sand cloud. In retrospect, I think it was a good decision. When we hit the edge of the dirty air, the chopper was turned over. We ended up pretty close to the ground and I think we hit the footy ground hard. We ened up ore a crash-landing than a crash. The extra little drama was the young female journo ran from the still-whizzing chopper, but towards the tail rotor, a definite wrong move. It took some very loud yells to get her back.

This was a year to the day we lost cameraman Blake Hobart, cadet journalist Nicole Best, Paul the assistant, the pilot (whose name escapes me) and another in the chopper crash in 1982. I'd been Blake's assistant for a few months in a freelance contract, but had gone to do a day on "Together Tonight" for the Ten Network for the day and another guy, also named Paul, was his assistant. No-one survived.

The inquest hadn't found the real reason for that crash, but I dont even think there was any follow up on the hard landing I was in.

My point in posting this is that I felt it was all fate. God had no hand in any of it. He couldn't have. He doesn't exist.

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