By CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 R. JAMES STEPHENS, F Company, 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, Fort Knox, Ky.November 30, 2012
As aviators and crewmembers, we are highly trained professionals. We do our job repeatedly to the point of muscle memory. The only thing that changes are the conditions or missions we fly. We are expected to operate with great attention to detail. But once we are off duty, why do we find ourselves taking risks that we might not take on duty?
I was a state highway patrolman a few years ago in Arizona. Just before Christmas, my partner and I took a call for a fatal accident involving a motorcycle and an SUV. An ambulance service from Nevada was en route to the scene and would arrive before us; but for investigation purposes, we had jurisdiction.
The accident was on Highway 93 between Kingman, Ariz., and Boulder Dam, which is on the Colorado River, separating Arizona and Nevada. We left Kingman at a high rate of speed with lights and siren on, cutting through the cold, dark desert. The drive was about 50 miles, so we knew it would take a while to get there.
When we arrived on the scene, traffic was backed up a couple miles in both directions and many people were standing outside of their vehicles. The scene was quiet except for a few vehicles that drivers had left on for heat. In the distance, you could faintly hear occasional radio traffic from emergency vehicles that had arrived about 30 minutes prior.
Emergency responders from the Nevada or Boulder City had already secured the scene and extricated the driver of the SUV. A Life Flight from Las Vegas was also just landing to transport the driver to a hospital. As I surveyed the scene, I noticed there was a large indentation in the SUV's shattered windshield, and the driver's-side door was caved in. The SUV was now off the road and turned 180 degrees from its original direction of travel. The driver's air bag had deployed, probably saving his life.
The driver of the motorcycle was lying face up in the roadway. His bike was in pieces, scattered about 200 feet across the roadway. As I examined him, I noticed he wore most of his personal protective equipment. Unfortunately, he chose to wear a novelty helmet that did not provide appropriate protection. The whole top of the helmet was missing, as was the man's upper cranium. Brain matter was lying in the road not too far from the body.
The man was traveling from Phoenix to Las Vegas, just as he probably had many times in the past. Witnesses said he'd passed them at a high rate of speed, weaving in and out of traffic before colliding with the SUV. Sadly, this momentary lack of good judgment claimed his life. Now, his family and friends, as well as the driver of the SUV, will have to pay for that bad judgment.
I have been in Army aviation since 1990. Over the years, I've seen numerous decisions and incidents that involved a momentary lack of good judgment. Some paid the ultimate price for it, while others miraculously lived to see another day. My challenge to you is to always have a plan and execute it using sound judgment. With a good plan and sound judgment, you can't go wrong. Don't let your daily routine lead you to becoming complacent. Whether you're riding, driving or flying, always think safety!