Medically Disqualified

DVTA month ago, after a three-day drive to northern Maine, I developed a pain in my right calf similar in feeling to a Charlie-horse. Stretching didn’t alleviate this discomfort. For the next several days it was less noticeable until gone altogether. Then a week later it returned and didn’t go away.

A doppler scan discovered I had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or to us non-medical professionals, a blood clot. Blood thinners for four months and I should be good to go.

Since I wasn’t given bed rest, or some other restrictive lifestyle, this diagnosis didn’t concern me. But my wife, a nurse practitioner, and the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) were. Should the clot dislodge and move to my brain, heart, or lung I would be in deep doo-do. If I didn’t die, I might be severely impaired the rest of my life. Because of this threat, the FAA will not let me pilot an aircraft until another doppler scan reveals the clot has dissolved or stabilized, and my blood work shows I don’t have a clotting problem.

This is the first time in thirty-six years of flying that I have been prevented from piloting an aircraft. It was a freedom I had taken for granted as an airline pilot. Even though I don’t fly recreationally or for personal travel—it’s hard to justify the expense when you fly for a living—the thought I could was always in the back of my mind. Often, I have thought about going to the local airport and getting checked out in a Cessna and doing some local sight-seeing. Or fulfill a dream I have had for years of getting qualified to fly helicopters or gliders. The glider rating might still be a possibility since you don’t need a medical certificate to fly one. Glider pilots certify before each flight that they are medically safe to fly. But I’d have to check on the legality of that. Since the FAA has medically grounded me they might consider me unfit to fly anything until I can prove otherwise.

If I were still experiencing the discomfort in my calf, I might be more understanding of the grounding. A doppler scan two weeks after the first one revealed the blood thinners did their job. The clot is gone. But until the FAA reviews my medical records, which can take four to eight weeks, I cannot act as a pilot.

Luckily, I had ten months of sick leave that’ll pay the bills until I go back to piloting a Boeing 737. I will have a two plus month vacation. I can accomplish the tasks around home I’ve put off and work on the novel I was writing.

But lurking in the back of my mind, as other pilots who were medically grounded have worried, is the fear: what if the FAA does not let me return to flying. That shouldn’t be a concern in my case as the cause of the clot was the three-day drive and my leg remaining stationary. But, just as when a caution light flickers in the cockpit indicating a system might be failing, I can devil advocate this medical condition. It has been discovered I have a mutated latent factor V gene that is prone to clotting. My primary care physician is not concerned by this as there is little risk of clotting unless I have two or more latent V genes.

But, what if the FAA disagrees? Even though the risk of a clot is low for non-pilots, what if the FAA feels the risk is too great for a pilot? Or, what if they want to wait until I have finished with the blood thinners to see if I develop another clot? Or do weekly blood tests to prove my blood clotting factor has not increased?

Having just over three years until I am forced to retire, these concerns are not as frightening then they would be if I had this diagnosis a decade ago. But I do plan to continue flying after retiring from the airlines. I hope to get a part time job flying for a corporation, charter operation, or an air ambulance as well as recreationally. If my novels sell well, get that helicopter or glider rating.

Stay tuned.

A Pilot’s Perspective of Southwest Flight 1380

Blown engine of Southwest 1380The engine failure and cabin depressurization of Southwest’s flight 1380 on Tuesday morning, April 17, hit close to home. I’m a Boeing 737 pilot for another airline who has flown from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Texas.

This blog’s intention is to give people not in the airline industry some perspective of what the pilots and flight attendants of this flight might’ve dealt with.

First off, my condolences to the family of the woman killed on the flight. I cannot imagine the anguish they must be experiencing.

I also want to congratulate both the pilots and flight attendants for successfully handling this emergency. All airline crews train for emergencies, but only when one happens is do we learn who can push aside their fear, concern, and confusion and deal with the situation presented to us.

The details presented here come from what I’ve gathered from news reports and my own experience with this aircraft. I don’t have an insider track on the investigation. All thoughts and opinions are this writer’s.

The flight was climbing through thirty-two thousand feet on its way up to thirty-eight thousand when one of the blades on the N1 rotor—the large fan on the front of the engine that generates the majority of a jet engines thrust—departed the engine. Why is unknown at this time. That’ll be something the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will determine.

The departing blade tore away the engine inlet lip and part of the cowling, flinging parts against the fuselage and shattering a cabin window.

The pressure in the cabin at this stage of the climb would have been approximately seven pounds per square inch. When the window disintegrated, roughly one thousand pounds of force attempted to shove  the unfortunate woman sitting at that seat out the window.

Either the woman’s shoulders or hips, or heroic efforts of the passengers nearby who grabbed her, prevented her from being completely forced out the small hole.

In the cockpit, the pilots—two of them, not a lone one as the news media portrayed—were probably first alerted to this problem by a vibration more severe than they had ever experienced. When the rotor blade departed, the engine might have ingested some of the debris and damaged the internal turbine sections signaling an engine fire. Within a few seconds the window would have shattered, and the cabin altitude would have climbed above fourteen thousand feet signaling another warning to the crew.

The crew would have been confronted with two severe emergencies at the same time: an engine fire, and a cabin rapid decompression. Either one alone would have made this pilot’s heart pound.

Most likely, the crew donned their oxygen masks and established communications with each other. Time of useful consciousness at this altitude would have been approximately one minute. With the fighter-pilot like masks on they would not have been able to yell to each other. Once they configured their audio panel so that they could communicate through the aircraft’s intercom and overhead speaker, they would’ve consulted the Rapid Depressurization/Emergency Descent checklist and begun a dive for a lower altitude.

Getting to a breathable altitude, ten thousand feet or lower, would have been more important than dealing with the engine fire. The oxygen masks in the cabin would have deployed automatically, but that supply of needed air would only last for approximately twelve minutes.

The emergency descent procedure is to deploy the speed brakes by yanking on a lever beside the throttles—which would lift four desk size panels atop each wing that destroy lift and cause drag—and descend at the maximum airspeed of 335 knots. That would have given them a descent of five to six thousand feet a minute.

Some of the passenger reports of the vibration during this time might have been from the rumble the speed brakes make when deployed at this speed.

 Once they were in the descent and that checklist complete—which there are several more steps than mentioned here—they probably began dealing with the engine fire.

The initial steps in that checklist has the crew shutting down the engine that was on fire, a step they should have been diligent in identifying to each other. There have been instances in the past of crews getting in a rush and shutting down the operating engine. Then, they would have pulled the fire handle for that engine to deprive it of fuel and hydraulic fluid so there would be no fuel for a fire. Then they would have activated at least one fire extinguisher.

Meanwhile, while this was going on, the crew would need to communicate with air traffic control. The air traffic controller who was watching their blip on their radar screen would need to know why they were no longer climbing but descending rapidly.

On the recordings I’ve listened to, it was obvious the controllers who worked this flight went out of their way to assist this crew. Still, the controllers need to be told what the crew intends to do so they can clear the airspace in front and below them so that they don’t collide with another flight. Not only does the controller have this emergency flight to deal with, they still have to handle the other aircraft in their sector.

If the emergency flight is diverting to another airport, which this crew rightly did, the controller needs to coordinate with the controllers at that airport they have an emergency flight coming their way.

Dealing with the numerous steps on both of these emergency checklists—something they don’t want to skip or not follow thoroughly, or they could cause other problems— and dealing with air traffic control can add additional stress. Without knowing it, a controller asking questions of their intentions which the crew may not have had time to consider, or while providing them information can interrupt their completing the checklist or dealing with the emergency in the cabin. The airline I fly for suggests one pilot fly the aircraft and deal with air traffic control while the other handles the emergency checklist.

Compounded with this, would have been the three flight attendants had their own emergency to deal with. Not only did they have a rapid decompression, they also had a medical emergency.

If the flight had been smooth prior to the emergencies, the flight attendants would have been out of their seats. Two of them might have had the beverage cart out in the aisle. When the cabin depressurized, they would have had to decide to use a free mask that dropped out of the ceiling, or rush to their jump seats and retrieve a portable oxygen bottle. In this model of the 737 each passenger service unit deploys four masks.

If they were breathing from a mask dropped from the ceiling when they noticed they had a medical emergency, they wouldn’t have been able to attend to them without possibly passing out. Only after being notified by the pilots that they had descended to an altitude where oxygen was not needed would they have been able to attend to the injuries; unless they had retrieved their portable oxygen bottles.

 It will be interesting to know if the flight attendants and passenger that gave the gravely injured passenger CPR continued to do so through the approach and landing, or did they take their seats and buckle in. Knowing they were landing in a stricken aircraft their self-preservation might have urged them to take their seat. It’s possible their compassion for this dependent passenger overruled their own survival.

At some point the pilots and flight attendants would need to talk to each other, yet another distraction for the pilots, but one that is critical. The flight attendants would need to inform them of the numerous injuries and ask what the plan was. In other words, how long before we’ll be on the ground, would they be evacuating or bracing for impact.

This would have happened while the pilots were preparing to land at an airport they had not planned for. They would need to learn what the weather and landing runways were, program the flight management computer and tune the navigation radios for the approach as well as discuss the landing.

It appears there was some miscommunication in the conversations with the flight attendants. Considering the stress both were experiencing that is understandable. From the recordings I’ve heard the captain reported to air traffic control a passenger might have been blown out, which wasn’t the case. It also would have been the flight attendants who informed them about the missing cowling. Though the flight attendants probably reported it as the captain did to air traffic control by stating, “a part of the aircraft was missing.” The pilots can not see the engines from their seats and neither one would leave the cockpit to go take a look.

 The 737 flies well on one engine, but it is more difficult than flying with two engines. Every power change will require an adjustment of the flight controls as the aircraft will attempt to roll towards or away from the operating engine. It has also lost more than fifty percent of its thrust considering the weight of the dead engine and operating engine is not on the aircraft’s centerline. Flying the aircraft on one engine is something crews practice every nine months at most airlines. Still, the pilots were not in the simulator and would know they could not screw up. Also, having injured passengers onboard might have urged them to hurry the approach so they could get medical treatment.

 Most crews will never experience either one of these emergencies, let alone compound emergencies. I haven’t in my career and hope I never will. Even without the death of a passenger, I imagine the stress now with the media attention and the numerous questionings they will go through from the NTSB, FAA, and their own company will be considerable. Knowing that a passenger died on one of their flights will probably be something they will carry with them for a long time.

I applaud this crew for their handling of these emergencies.

Interview with Liz Carson, From the novel, The Seventh Seed, by Allison Maruska

 

Allison Maruska The Seventh SeedI arrived at the designated spot in the middle of nowhere in Virginia. Why would Liz Carson, from the novel The Seventh Seed, by Allison Maruska want to meet here. I realize secrecy is a big issue for Liz, but seriously, there isn’t a coffee shop for miles.

The rumble of a motorcycle comes through the forest. A moment later I catch sight of it driven by a guy with dreadlocks and a bald guy with broad shoulders riding on back.

They stop in front of me and get off it. “You, Dana?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

In a blur of movement, Baldy has me face down on the ground with his foot on my neck. Dreadlocks frisks me and digs out my wallet, then holds my driver’s license up to my face.

My attacker steps back and offers me a hand. “Sorry, we have to be careful. I’m Charlie.”

Dreadlocks introduces himself as Jonah.

Charlie stays behind while Jonah drives me through the woods to a cabin along a creek. Sitting on the porch is a slender woman in her fifties, who after introductions, I discover is Liz, the woman who helped Javier all through The Seventh Seed.

After we exchange greetings, Jonah stands to her side.

“We’ll be okay,” Liz says to him. “Allison vouched for him.”

After he leaves, she gestures for the railing for me to sit on. “Go ahead with your questions.” She’s reflects an unease, like she is not used to being the center of attention.

Where to begin with a book that had so many twists and turns? “Initially, you had no reservations of leaving your life behind and helping Javier escape the authorities who were chasing him. Even when people around you were killed, and you were almost murdered, you continued on without reservation. Halfway through the story, you had a change of heart, and wanted to stop running and leave Javier with the friends you had found. Can you explain why you changed your mind?”

“I’ve been on my own for several years. Part of the reason I worked at the shelter was I could just leave if I wanted to. There’s always another shelter somewhere. Anyway, I think I was getting more attached to the group, and to Javier specifically, than I expected. Once we found others for him to work with I didn’t worry so much about taking off.

Hmm… it seems the keyword in her answer is so much. Well, that’s two words. This begs for me to ask: “When you informed the others you were leaving them, Javier talked you out of it. To me, it seemed he ulterior motives than simply needing another body to fight LifeFarm. It seemed he had come to look up to you as a son would his mother. Did you feel this way?”

“To some degree. I told Javier he reminded me of Travis, my son, who was taken by LifeFarm, and he did. Javier’s mother ditched him so I can’t blame the kid for wanting to connect.”

I knew it. There was more to their relationship than her simply helping a young man who needed her assistance. “Do you feel you would have thrown caution aside and gone on the run with him if your husband hadn’t been killed in the wars and LifeFarm hadn’t taken your son?”

“Nah. I wanted to strike the beast that stole my family.”

I study my notepad while scratching my head. “From your answer I’m guessing you weren’t as rebellious as you became when Javier stepped into your life. Is that true?”

“I was a perfectly responsible adult before Travis was recruited by LifeFarm. I was one of those moms who arranged play dates and volunteered in his classroom. I even ran for the damn PTA. Once Kyle and Travis were gone, I didn’t care so much. Sold the house and bounced from place to place for a while.”

“Do you think you can find your son and undo the brainwashing LifeFarm has done on him?”

“I hope so. My husband got wise to LifeFarm when he was on his third deployment, but he was military, not necessarily brainwashed. Travis has a good heart. He joined them because he thought he could help people. Maybe one day he’ll see LifeFarm does the opposite.”

“Do you have any thoughts of where things might go if there is another story about your existence?”

“Nah. But if I gotta run off somewhere new, I’ll do it.”

What every crusade needs. A carefree woman ready and willing to go when needed. “Thank you for your time. Can I get a ride back to my car, or has Charlie stolen it?”

HauGHnt, by David C. Cassidy

david-c-cassidy-haughntFrom the opening scene where an estranged father on his deathbed reveals a devastating secret to his son, to the last scene where that son contemplates committing the same hideous crime, David C. Cassidy pulls you into the dark edges of humanity.

 In HauGHnt, the slide for protagonist Paul Steele from responsible, carefree writer, to potential killer is subtle in each chapter, but it was a slippery one. Cassidy’s writing puts you into Steele’s head so that the logic behind his decisions is understandable, yet you hate them at the same time.

 My only regret with this story is how short it was. Cassidy’s other stories are long and involved so that the reader really knows the characters and either loves and feels for them, or despises them. Cassidy did an excellent job in this short story creating Paul Steele’s world and the situation confronting him before concluding the story in a logical way. But this lover of Cassidy’s words would have loved a longer story.

 Don’t let that deter you from reading this. If you enjoy short stories with depth of character and a chilling situation, this is one you shouldn’t turn down.

Reader Comments on Blamed

 

BLAMED Small-promoMy airline thriller, Blamed, has been available as an eBook on Amazon for a month. The paperback version should be available the third week of September.

So far, thankfully, it is selling better than my other books. Although I’m not complaining, I have to ask why since I haven’t promoted it more than the release of my other books. Is it readers of my other books have been silently waiting a new release from me? Have those who have read it enjoyed it so much they are raving about it to fellow readers? Or, the fact it was posted on Caleb and Linda Pirtle’s Book of the Moment webpage generated more interest for it than I could have on my own? Thank you again, Caleb and Linda.

Whatever the reason, I’m not complaining. There are no reviews for it yet (hint hint) so I’m not sure what readers reaction to it are, other than this unsolicited post on Facebook from my sister in-law, Nancy:

So I have “listened” to your book on my Kindle…. in the car, with Bluetooth headphones on everywhere else, and hardly stopped for sleep! This was a work of art that showed your passion for your profession as a pilot as well as your knowledge and dedication to making words share that passion with your readers! It was riveting! Thank you!

And this one on Twitter from @GayRainbowAnarchist:

75 percent through Blamed. Thoroughly entertaining.

These comments made my day.

If interested in reading Blamed, you can find it here.

First Chapter of novel, Blamed.

 

BLAMED Small-promoChapter One

 

The crushing pain radiating up from my legs yanked me out of unconsciousness. My arms dangled above my head and my hands rested on the overhead panel of the aircraft. Comprehending I was upside down was difficult to grasp with the fear of blacking out again threatening to overtake me.

I yelled and squirmed in an attempt to stop the slide into nothingness and to relieve the agony in my legs. Neither relaxed the all-consuming pain. If anything, my thrashing sharpened it.

We were on approach to Dallas-Fort Worth when… what? Nothing came forth that explained why I’d be upside down and in such misery. A black hole occupied my memory of what happened between everything being normal as we approached the runway and… now.

Wind whistled through the smashed cockpit windows, ruffling my hair. Shards of glass littered the overhead panel. Smoke that stank of burned jet fuel and something else I couldn’t place drifted in.

Where there’s smoke, there’s… Fire! I had to get the flight attendants and passengers to safety! Then a realization hit me. We had been ferrying the empty aircraft from a maintenance facility in San Salvador.

Ned! Why hadn’t the first officer, who had been the pilot flying, made a sound?

When I looked across the cockpit, I shrieked.

The overhead panel had bowed in and crushed the forty-something husband and father’s head backward at an extreme angle against his headrest. A lifeless eye bulged from his distorted, bloody face. It stared straight ahead.

The laid-back pilot with a dry sense of humor looked like a ghoul from a Hollywood movie.

How could he be dead? He’d been joking with me just moments ago.

To distance myself from the sight, I squeezed my eyes shut while fumbling for the seatbelt buckle of my five-strap harness, then hesitated. If I released it, I would plant my head into the overhead panel, which was filled with numerous toggle switches. Even if I didn’t impale on a switch or break my neck, the agony in my legs made me question if I could work them enough to crawl from the aircraft.

I risked a glance. Whatever had happened to us had bent the instrument panel down, trapping my lower extremities under it. The femur in my right leg poked out through a tear in my pants. A constant stream of blood ran from the tip of the broken bone.

I recoiled, and the bone moved.

An intense spike of nausea erupted, emptying my stomach. Vomit burned my throat, ran into my eyes, and up my nose.

I swiped my face with my arm to clear my vision. This movement sent a wave of blackness rolling through me. A part of me welcomed it to end my misery. Another part worried I wouldn’t ever wake from it. I couldn’t leave my wife, son, and daughter.

The sounds of large diesel engines approached. Air brakes hissed. Were they from the crash and rescue trucks?

“Help.” My cry was a gurgle from the vomit in my mouth. I spit.

The smoke outside was now so thick, I couldn’t see the ground. Would they find me before I was consumed by fire? “Help!”

I didn’t detect any movement or hear any voices. I would not become a victim. I had to get out.

A stabbing pain in my side had grown in intensity, making it harder to breathe. When the yoke was rammed into me, had it broken a rib or my sternum? Punctured a lung?

A shove on the yoke to move it forward proved futile.

With a heave, I pushed against the edge of the glareshield, normally at shoulder height but now waist level, hoping to ease the pressure against my chest. The crushing force didn’t slacken.

It also intensified the torture in my legs. I doubted a chainsaw cutting into them would hurt worse. The bellow I unleashed didn’t summon the strength needed to distance me from the yoke.

I sat as still as I could, panting.

The gulps of air I took didn’t relieve my shortness of breath.

If I could slide the seat back, I might breathe easier and free my legs.

Why hadn’t I thought of the seat adjustment lever?

Twisting to yank that lever at the base of my seat felt like a knife stabbing my chest. With my free hand, I shoved on the crushed instrument panel. The intensity of the torment was so great, I almost blacked out.

If I did, I might either bleed or burn to death.

Through gritted teeth, I pushed on the glareshield yanking on the seat adjustment lever. When I didn’t move, I unleashed a howl.

I stayed rammed against the yoke.

When I attempted to shove with my feet, unimaginable agony consumed me, bringing on the darkness I’d been fighting.

Book Review, Absence Makes The Heart Go Ponder, by Nels Gartus

Absence Makes the Heart Go Ponder by Nels GarthusI enjoyed this book.

 That being said, it took me several chapters to get into it. Those early chapters are full of backstory explaining why the three main characters are the way they are, something in any other genre I loathe. But in this case, some of it may have been needed, but I feel it could’ve been layered in throughout the story.

 The other reason I was less enthused initially is I usually read thrillers that start off with a bang and carry that pace throughout the story. This is a slower read about the issues affecting these three male characters as they go through life. There also was some repetition in the writing I feel could have been edited out.

 But once I settled into the story’s rhythm, I began to steal time to read a chapter or two. Often, I found myself nodding at what one of the characters was going through as I’ve experienced that same feeling, situation, or emotion too.

I loved the ending and was glad it worked out the way it did for the three. The last sentence makes me hope there is a follow up novel.