On the grass near the terminal sit numerous helicopters but at this stage no-one is going anywhere as the fog seems to get thicker and thicker. By 6.00 am we should be seeing sunlight but instead are greeted by an ugly grey sky that refuses to break. We drink more coffee and sit around, bored and helpless. Out there somewhere is a downed plane with possible survivors and we can’t get to them.
At about 8.30 am a pilot wanders over and asks Duck, who is charge of the ACTES contingent, if he has anyone light, preferably about 65 kilograms or less. Everyone looks at me. The pilot explains that he’d like to take his chopper up and see how thick the fog is, as well as how far it stretches. At this stage he has two observers, however, he needs another to make up a full crew, preferably someone light. I volunteer – after all, what else is there to do except sit around waiting?
We have a quick safety briefing before getting in the chopper and belting up, putting on headphones and getting familiar with the intercom – helicopters are quite loud and unassisted speech in the cabin is impossible. The pilot starts the engine and we sit on the grass for a few minutes as he checks instruments and makes minor adjustments to various dials and knobs. And then we lift off and hover just a few feet off the ground before dipping a fraction and lifting more, straight into the seemingly impenetrable fog.
The fog persists for quite a while and then suddenly we break through into brilliant and blinding sunlight. Up here we can see for miles and although the fog seems to stretch a long way it appears to be breaking up. The pilot radios back to Goulburn aerodrome letting them know the conditions. Goulburn replies that it will get aircraft into the air as soon as it possibly can.
With the fog quickly dispersing, we are soon zooming low over forests and hills and rivers, seeing wild deer, abandoned and rusting cars and farmers working on fences or moving stock. At one stage we see something white that reflects the sunlight and we move in close for a better look. The pilot manages to hover down between some large gum trees on the side of a hill and we peer out the side through the Perspex canopy. Sadly it a large fridge and not a downed aircraft so we lift up again and continue our search pattern.
Extract taken from Meditations in Orange by JG Montgomery (Pendragon Publishing & Design 2104).
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