Life Is Truly A Lottery: How This Air Disaster Changed My Life

A Harvard like the one I flew in and nearly crashed.

Sometimes you need to be scared into changing your life. This is what happened to me many years ago. I'll tell you how I made a life-changing decision because of my terrifying experience...

It started in the air, high above the countryside on a brilliant day.

The pilot's voice came through strong over the intercom. In the clipped tones all pilots seem to acquire, he asked if I was ready.

"Affirmative," I replied, and hoisted the movie camera up to my eye, pointing it at the instrument panel.

The single engined Harvard rolled over on its back, then flipped back upright, the blue horizon spinning round outside the cockpit. I strained against the four-point harness and gripped the heavy camera firmly.

Then the maneuver was over. I put the Bolex 16mm camera on my lap and looked around the twin cockpit canopy.

Ahead in the front compartment I could see the back of the pilot's head. A medical doctor and qualified air force pilot, he was doing some extreme aerobatics so he could study the effects of different moves.

And I was an air force photographer in the rear seat - with the job of filming the instruments reacting to our moves.

And I was enjoying it immensely.

I prepared for the next roll, and it came strongly as the aircraft roared its way round the horizon again. 

Then it happened... the mid-air event that every pilot or passenger dreads. As I looked up from the eyepiece, suddenly a black film completely covered the front window of the canopy.

Big black gobs like treacle started trickling back towards me in the strong slipstream. I could see it was oil.

Something had blown badly, and we had little forward vision. We were effectively blind.

The engine note changed as the pilot feathered the propellor and dropped the revs. Over the headset I could hear the Squadron Leader call calmly, "Mayday mayday, we have an emergency."

The tower answered and he gave a quick outline of our problem. "We have no forward vision, windscreen is oiled over." There was a loud rush of air as he pulled the canopy back and slowed the engine even more. The propeller was now a gray blur.

I felt no fear, but the thought of having to bail out was a concern. I had never jumped using a parachute before.

This could be my last moments, and I had no idea what would happen next. How would we die, I wondered to myself.

The pilot's voice came across the headset to me, "We have a problem, are you ok?" 

Mindful of the fact that he would have his hands full with the emergency, I pressed the reply button and answered confidently and briefly. "OK here."

The engine was still idling as we started the long glide towards the airfield.

I looked at the control stick at my knees, watching it move smoothly in big arcs as the pilot kept the aircraft level at glide speed. 

The air force had chosen wisely when they selected me, I thought morbidly to myself... I could have gone crazy with the stress and pulled randomly on the stick, sending both of us to our certain death.

But for some reason I was as calm as a goldfish asleep in a bowl.

And now - as a glider pilot myself - I recognized the various steps the pilot was taking for the long glide into the airfield. Lowering flaps, doing the pre-landing tests.

As I looked out the side I knew we had the height and the landing runway was within reach - but anything could happen before then.

And that would mean a forced landing in any of the fields around - not a good strategy. Still, better than bailing.

The engine ticked over quietly, almost drowned out by the noise of the buffeting wind that entered the cockpit. Ahead I could see the pilot put his head out to the side to see ahead. 

The airfield grew closer. Little dots of people had gathered in front of the hangars. There were dozens of groups, all come to watch us crash. Remarkably, above the sound of the wind and engine I could hear the sirens on the ground.

That made me nervous for the first time.

Below I could see the fire and specialized crash engines race out from the side of the field to join the runway, like little toys. Our wheels came down slowly.

Phew, that meant we didn't need to land on our belly. We floated over the fence with a sideways slip so the pilot could see out the side, and with a gentle bump made a perfect textbook landing.

The crash fire units came up beside us as we freewheeled to a halt, and within seconds there were people everywhere. The engine slowed and stopped. We were safe.

The rest was an anti-climax. After the pilot and I climbed out, he asked me again if I was OK. 

A few of the fire and technical crew looked at me with concern. Then after seeing I was fine, I was free to go. I walked away across the field in the warm sun to the photographic section, camera in one hand, helmet in another.

As I reached the tarmac I looked back to see the stricken aircraft being towed back to the hangar. .

Later I was told the problem was a loose oil cap at the front of the aircraft. It came off during our aerobatics and the oil was sucked out to deposit itself on the windscreen.

I had cheated death - not for the first time, but I'll tell you about those episodes in later posts.

And the aftermath to the event was strangely ordinary. I was a minor celebrity for a few short hours, then life returned to normal for everyone else.

But that day I had a lot of time to think about how brief life could be.

And as a result of my experience I wanted to do and have more.

More security, more challenge. More of everything. That day, more than any other, started me on the path to my present business. No more standard living... no more denying myself what I really wanted out of life. This day I would change.

It took several more years before I completed my term and left the air force. But it was a step I never regretted.

I had lived a remarkable 10 years flying in exotic aircraft, military jets and helicopters, flying to the Antarctic, to the Azores, the United States and other parts of the world, mapping the countryside, flying aerobatics... the most amazing experiences.

But it was time to take back my own life... to live life on MY own terms and conditions. And that led to the Silver Lotto System.

It was not the adventurer's life of the armed services, but in a different way it continues to be a truly remarkable success.

That's because money was the lever to a better life... it was the tool to getting more out of life than I had ever imagined. And it's still happening. I was able to live the life of a wealthy tourist when I choppered into Monaco a few weeks back. 

But I fly business class now...seems a little safer somehow.

Life truly is a lottery, but we can all make more from life if we take the steps and act now.