Alexandra's Notebook

Accidental Fatalities

One of the hardest things about being in the military was dealing with loss. And I don’t mean the sporting kind, I mean, the loss of life. And while it didn’t happen all that often, a single event could bring us all to our knees physically and mentally.

My first loss was an abstract loss, in that, while I participated in the on-going situation—the rescue of a young child who had floated out to sea on a lilo (an inflatable pool raft)—it was from a distance and on the periphery of the event that, sad to say, ended in the loss of life. The child drown before either the helicopter or lifeboat launched could reach him. That loss, nonetheless, hit all those involved, from the rescue crews to those on-scene at the holiday beach, to us at the rescue centre when we heard the awful news. It was heartbreaking.

The second time I was involved in loss, was so much more painful and real as I knew those involved. This loss hit the whole base I was stationed at, in Germany, hard. It involved two front line jets colliding while on a joint exercise training mission within restricted airspace. The jets were simulating a dog fight, one playing the good guy, Blue Forces, and the other, the invading Orange Forces. When, in a split second of what must have been absolute terror, something went wrong and the two planes collided mid-air. And while one pilot was lucky enough to eject, the other was not so lucky.

I was on duty in Operations during this exercise, manning the mission comms following the dog fight, as were personnel in Ops, Eng Ops, Intel and the other departments within the Ops building at the time. The shock that reverberated through that building when the collision happened was one of sheer devastation. Only once in my life time to that point had I ever seen a grown man cry, that day I saw more than a few openly sob.

To add to everyone’s grief, as most of us knew the deceased pilot, was the fact his fiancé, a pilot officer working in Ops that day, collapsed. Yet, worse was to come.

The planes collided over an area set aside of these kinds of training missions for a reason, it was rugged, rough, covered in peat bog and scrubland. A difficult terrain on every level.

Teams were assembled who had the delicate tasks of going into this terrain to not only collect body parts, but every last bit of the plane. While a number of teams were also sent in to put out—or at least try too put out—the subsequent fire.

Not only did the station go into lockdown that day, but into mourning as well.

Sad to say, this wouldn’t be the last plane crash I was involved in one way or another, there were others, each as devastating emotionally and as physically, to all involved.

I still remember you Flight Lieutenant John Reed, you were one of the good ones, so funny, and so full of life and promise.