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Ship's Captain

A True Life Story

  

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The Ship's Captain

This true story happened in the year 2001. We had started up our helicopter around the lunch time and I was getting ready to take off for a one month long embarked operations from a Frigate class of ship. We were still waiting for the confirmation whether the ship has sailed out of the harbour or not, so that we can take off from the airbase.

When going for landing on a ship’s deck, helicopters usually carry much less fuel because, more fuel means increased landing difficulty. Landing on a ship which is rolling left and right, pitching nose up and down, and in addition heaving up and down especially in bad weather is very difficult and a high-risk flying condition that needs a lot of practice and only experienced pilots can pull it off safely.

The ship was supposed to sail out from the harbour in about half an hour. Being a pilot, my job was to fly the helicopter, after the ship leaves the harbour and sails past the fairway buoy normally at about 10 miles from the harbour because until then, the ship is restricted in its ability to turn into wind, which is necessary for safe landing on an unsteady ship at sea.

We were waiting inside the helicopter cockpit with the engines started up and rotors engaged. We were expecting a cleared to take off call from the Air Traffic Controller or the ATC.

A moment later the ATC called on radio and said, “Callsign Sera Kilo, stop rotors, keep the engine running. Request Co-pilot to contact the ATC on landline.”

There was some urgency in the Controllers voice on radio. I stopped the helicopter rotors and went out to contact the ATC on landline. This true story had started unfolding almost an hour ago. But my role in this true-life story started only with the ATC’s call on radio. I reached the nearest phone and rang up the Air Traffic Controller.

The controller said, “Sir, your ship has already sailed out. The ship has sent a message on radio, requesting the pilot to buy some emergency medicines from the nearest medical store.”

I said, “The ship has a full-fledged hospital onboard. There is every possible medicine stored onboard the ship. Are you sure you heard it right?”

The ATC, “I heard it right, Sir. Your ship’s Captain has personally requested on the radio that you should not take off without the medicine. Please note the name of the medicine.”

I noted the name of the medicine and cut the phone. I had not much money with me at that time because all of us had gone to the ship in the morning and dumped all our luggage. This is a normal procedure to reduce the take-off and landing weight of the helicopter when operating from a ship’s deck.

I went back to the helicopter and asked my co-pilot if he had some money on him. I did not want to go to the medical shop in uniform without adequate money. Between us, we managed about 1000 bucks. I took my bike and went to the medical store just outside our airbase. Somehow, this Chemist did not have that medicine.

I had to visit six more Chemists on my bike to get the medicine. The last Medical store was almost five kilometres away from our airbase. I gave the piece of paper on which I had noted the name of the medicine to the Chemist.

The Chemist gave me a big packet and also gave me the bill for 4900 bucks. I did not know what to do. I couldn’t tell him that I did not have that much with me.

I asked the chemist, “What is this medicine used for?”

The chemist said, “This is anti-rabies injection. A total of fourteen are required when anyone is bitten by a dog to ensure that the person does not get rabies.”

I placed 1000 bucks on his counter and said, “I don’t need the full packet.”

The chemist kept the medicine back in his shelf and said, “I can’t open the sealed packet because no one will buy the rest of them, once the packet is opened. Not only that, to make it 14, I have to open a new packet every time to add 4 more to the 11 you are leaving behind. There aren’t, many stray dogs around this city and rarely does someone come to buy this injection.”

I replied, “It is a sailor on my ship who has been bitten by a dog. The ship has already sailed out for a month-long sailing and this young boy is sailing for the sake of the country and you. The life of that sailor would be in danger, if I don't take the medicine to the ship urgently.”

Finally, the Chemist was convinced and agreed to hand over three injection vials of the anti-rabies injection vials. He opened the packet, took out just three vials, packed it and gave it to me.

I was starting my bike with the partial medicine packet in my pocket when the Chemist asked, “Do you have dogs onboard your ships?” I smiled at him and left.

I got into my helicopter cockpit, engaged the rotors and we took off for the ship. After getting airborne I asked my crew members, “Why does our ship need anti-rabies injections? Any idea? There are no dogs onboard to my knowledge.”

My co-pilot said, "Sir, probably it may be a sailor who does not want to sail on the ship for 30 days due to some personal problems. He may have come onboard and made an excuse that he has been bitten by a dog, so that his Officer allows him to disembark and stay at home when the ship is sailing.”

My co-pilot continued, “Many a times, some smart sailors are known to come up with such bright ideas to skip sailing. Probably, this time his Officer might have had even brighter idea than that sailor. The Officer must have told the sailor, don't worry, you stay on board and sail with us. We will ensure that you get the anti-rabies injection onboard using the helicopter."

We all had a good laugh at this and continued flying the helicopter towards our ship which had reached over 40 miles into the sea by that time. We landed on the ship's helicopter deck and switched off the engines. The doctor who was waiting on the deck snatched the packet from my hand and went into the ship in a hurry.

I asked a few of the ship’s crew standing there, “Who has been bitten by a dog.”

All of them said, “We don’t know, Sir.”

I went to the ship's bridge to brief the Captain of the ship, regarding the number of air crew, technical ground crew and the state of my aircraft which I have landed on his ship’s deck. On reaching the Bridge, I saw only the navigating officer on Watch there, with the Fleet Commander, an Admiral, sitting in the Captain’s Chair. Normally, whenever the Admiral is in the Bridge, the Captain can not be absent from there.
I whispered to the Navigating Officer, “Who is the sailor whose been bitten by the dog?

The Navigating Officer said, concealing a sly smile, “It was not a sailor who has been bitten by a dog, but the Captain of the ship himself. And the best part is that he has been bitten by the dog of the Chief of Staff, an Admiral”.

The Navigating Officer continued, “The poor Captain was in a dilemma. No ship can sail out of the harbour without its Captain onboard. And with the Admiral embarking the ship, there was no way the Captain could have skipped the sailing. It was a ‘To Be or Not To Be’ situation for him. So he had to come onboard.”

I asked, “Is the Fleet Commander aware of this incident?”

The Navigating Officer said, “The Captain decided to embark the ship for this sailing and has passed strict instructions that if the Fleet Commander comes to know of it, then whoever is the culprit, will have to face music, once the Admiral disembarks the ship.”

I said, “I can’t believe this. The Chief of Staff has a huge ferocious dog. I have seen him walking that dog in the accommodation area in the mornings and evenings. Even the Admiral is no match for the strength of his dog.”

The Navigating Officer said, “The Captain embarked the ship and then told the Ship’s doctor about it. The doctor was so alarmed that he went and mentioned it to the Admiral. You have bought the injections for the Captain on the Admiral’s orders.”

I met the doctor in the Officer's Ward Room Mess. We were already late for lunch. The doctor walked in after we started having lunch. He came for lunch after administering the Captain, the first doze of anti-rabies injection which we had brought onboard.

We were half way through lunch when I asked the doctor, “How are you going to manage 11 more injections? I presume we have to go back and get the remaining 11 injections tomorrow or day after since we are sailing for a month?”

The doctor said, “What? We are sailing for 30 days?”

The doctor left his lunch untouched and hurriedly walked out. Later we found out that the doctor had gone straight to the Admiral and had appraised him of the situation that we had only 3 injections and we need to get another 11 within the next 48 hours.

The Admiral was a very considerate gentleman. He terminated the exercise on the third day and we turned back to harbour, so that the ship's Captain can get proper treatment and rest. This is a true story of dedication to duty of a Ship’s Captain.