We Plunged To Earth In A Violent Spasm Of Shaking Metal: How I Cheated Death--Again.

A Robinson R22 exactly like this one was about to kill me!

I was going to die, but strangely I didn't feel any fear.

A thousand feet below the sea stretched out past the beach with its jagged rocks. The white surf crashed noiselessly against them. The sky was blue and calm. It looked so pretty, yet in a few seconds it could all be taken away from me.

Above my head the helicopter's rotors whirled in slow motion, creating a flap-flap shutter effect against the sun.

The pedals of the chopper were bucking against my feet so violently I couldn't keep my feet on them.

A warning klaxon whooped incessantly and I was being flung against my harness like a rag doll as the Robinson R22 shook like crazy.

The ground was approaching fast.

It didn't look good. I just hoped the end would be quick.

My journey to disaster started with another training session at the hangar an hour before. I had about 30 hours training to fly this helicopter, and I had been solo already for about 15 hours.

And this flight we were going to practice autorotating... gliding with the power off. That's when the chopper shuts down and glides to a landing with the blades acting like a sycamore leaf... gently spiraling safely to earth.

Except - not gently, nor safely this time like another near-death experience.

The instructor had told me what to do, but neglected one single point that was to be our  downfall.

When I was to push the collective stick down - the one that makes the chopper go up and down - I needed to leave the throttle in the same position.

But I instinctively rolled it off when I dropped the stick, shutting down the engine to idle.

This slowed the blades right down to almost a stall. It was one of the most dangerous mistakes you could make in a helicopter.

And I never knew about it.

There was hardly enough lift to keep the small copter in the air, and we started dropping like a stone.

The blade shaft started whacking against the tall pylon that supported it, and the eggbeater motion was shaking the aircraft like an out-of-balance washing machine.

We had to do something fast to recover, but I had no experience. It was all up to my tutor.

The instructor moved quickly. I could feel his hand wind the throttle to rev up the engine. I took my hands off the controls. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him wrestling to bring the shaking chopper under control.

It seemed hopeless. How could you recover a flying machine that didn't have any wings?

But someone was watching over us that day. The rotors sped up, the horn stopped. And we leveled out - a mere 50 feet above the ground. He landed it quickly on the grass and shut the engine down. As the rotors slowed to a halt, I can't remember saying anything to him. There were no words to say. 

He got out and wordlessly we inspected the damage. The pylon was slightly buckled from the impact of the shaft.

"I think it will still fly," he said after a through inspection, and called base.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur as another chopper flew in from the airport close by. My instructor flew the Robinson back to the airport, slowly, low across the sea, as we monitored him in the other helicopter above in case there was any problem. It was OK.

We met again the hangar office later that afternoon. "I'm going to have a whisky," he grinned, "care to join me?" 

I wasn't traumatized, but I thought a drink would probably not help so I refused politely and went home.

You'd be right if you thought I would never fly again after that life-threatening experience.

But you're wrong.

Next week we were back in the air as if nothing had happened. And I went on to gain the hours I needed for my license. The lesson I learned from that experience was - persist.

Even when you have the worst nightmare experience in the world, you need to keep on going. Same with the lottery. Some weeks your game could be like this accident... your money lost, winnings light, little hope.

But then - if you have the right spirit and are persistent - the next week may reap a windfall that astounds you:

Ken I bought your system ... Since then computer crashed ,new computer, changed internet carriers, etc, etc. Anyway still kept trying the system and 2 weeks ago won 2nd division powerball $100,000.00...

But there's one regret I have about my experience to this day, over 25 years later... I never thanked him for saving our lives. And sadly he died a couple of years after the accident without me ever doing that.

Thanks Brian, may your sky be limitless.

Since then I have flown only once in a helicopter. Last month, when I visited Monaco. And a strange desire to take the controls again rose inside me.

Maybe, one day, I will again.