Many years ago I was filming a documentary on Air Sea Rescue operations at a Base in Scotland. The programme was eventually shown on ITV.
We did mock runs with the helicopters and fast rescue boats atc, and everything was going along quite well until a Royal Navy Officer suggested I should do the bird’s eye view of a rescue operation.
In this case he specifically meant the view a downed pilot would have as his rescuers, in the form of a helicopter and crew, would swoop across the ocean and pluck him from the jaws of certain death.
After he had been forced to ditch into the sea.
A good idea, very visual..
The Navy at that time were very pleased about a new pilot survival suit they had with a newly developed rescue beacon that was much more powerful and detectable than anything they had previously.
It gets better. The chances of a rescue for a downed pilot wearing this suit were almost 100%
Reassured, off I trot like the sacrificial lamb to get kitted out in one of these survival suits and some basic survival techniques where it was explained to me that the master plan would be to drop me off in the Atlantic Ocean somewhere off the coast of North Scotland.
The rescue services would then be alerted that there was a pilot down and be given a rough search area. With approximate co-ordinates..an absolute doddle…they said..
So far so good..
What a fool..
So…Kitted out with a natty flying suit and a waterproof camera I am whisked away to a remote spot on the globe and dumped into the ocean…The helicopter hovered for a few minutes to make sure I was ok and then off they went back to their warm officers mess for tea and biscuits no doubt..
Meanwhile I am now bobbing about ..quite comfy and absolutely safe in the knowledge that in a few minutes ..maybe thirty at the outside, I would be located and saved..with some good footage of the operation…back in time for the bar opening..
The sea began to get a little choppy.
The survival suit was beginning to chafe a little as I was tossed about on the surface.
After a couple of hours I was violently seasick.
After four hours I began to get a little concerned.
My rescuers were nowhere to be seen.
But wait..That is a Nimrod aircraft at zero level about five mles away..It seemed to be doing criss cross patterns across the sea.
Occasionally as I rose to the top of a swell I could also spot a couple of helicopters in the same area.
Now I was cold, had nothing left to vomit and hey…the sun was about to set..
The massive golden ball was hanging just above the horizon and glinting across the water .
This is it I thought. How many hours did that instructor say the survival time was. How many hours had passed and how many were left.
Some business men on a flight from Northern Ireland were crossing over to Scotland for a meeting.
They were in a hurry and their chopper was flying low. They went straight over the top of me, continued for a couple of miles and then banked around for a closer look.
The chopper circled, the pilot waved and then they went on their way.
Within a few minutes my rescuers arrived. The winchman dropped in and looped me up.I got great footage and they were very embarrassed.
It turned out that the superdooper rescue beacon had “Malfunctioned” and they thought I was on my way to Nova Scotia or somewhere equally exciting.
The Navy were almost about to announce that they had just killed a film cameraman.
But they didn’t.
Moral of the story…There isn’t one really..these things just happen but don’t take the experts word as gospel every time and carry a back up beacon..or get a job as an accountant.