Polar Podcasts

13: Kent Brooks: “Mayday, mayday, mayday, helicopter going down”

September 22, 2020 Julie Hollis Season 1 Episode 13
Polar Podcasts
13: Kent Brooks: “Mayday, mayday, mayday, helicopter going down”
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we hear from Kent Brooks, Emeritus Professor at the Geological Museum in Copenhagen, about a very close call while working for a mineral exploration company in East Greenland in the early 1970s.


13: Kent Brooks: “Mayday, mayday, mayday, helicopter going down”

Based on interviews held on January 9–10, 2020 in Kendal, England

Note: Polar Podcasts are designed to be heard. If you are able, please listen to the audio, which includes emotion and emphasis that is not evident in the transcript.


Kent 0:02

“Mayday, mayday, mayday, helicopter Tango Echo Foxtrot, location East Greenland, going down.”

Julie 0:13

Welcome to Polar Podcasts, where you’ll hear stories from geologists who’ve spent their careers, their lives, exploring and studying the remarkable and remote geology of Greenland. Why did they become fascinated with Greenland? What were the problems and the discoveries that drove them? And what was it like working in these remote places, where few people venture, even now? I’m Julie Hollis.

In this episode, we hear from Kent Brooks, Emeritus Professor at the Geological Museum in Copenhagen, about a very close call while working for a mineral exploration company in East Greenland in the early 1970s.

Kent 0:59

Well er, it was when I with Nordic, Nordic, Northern Mining Company, Nordiskmineselskab, and er, it was the end of the season and I don’t quite remember. Most of the other prospectors, they went back, they went back on the ship, I think. But er, me and this guy Schatselmejer, we decided we were going to, we were going to fly with the helicopter down to, down to Ammassilik, down to Kulusuk. To get the plane from there. That was fair enough because the helicopter was flying south anyhow, it was flying to Narsarsuaq. So it would be no problem, to take the two passengers with us, drop us at Kulusuk. But er, what we hadn’t, what we hadn’t er, bargained for was er, malfunction.

And er, we flew south from er Aputiteq and we were over the little island of Patutalajivik er, south of there, and er, the pilot, the pilot told us that er, he had a serious problem of rising, rising, rising temperatures in the gearbox. And he’d have to er, he’d have to shut off the engine before too long if the temperatures kept rising. And that’s in fact what happened. And we er, he turned around, and we were flying back to Aputiteq. And he said, “We’d better, we’d better get some airspace, in case something goes wrong.” So we were climbing, climbing, climbing. Climbing, 4000, 5000, 6000, 7000 feet. And then he said, “I, I, I just, I have to turn off the engine he said. Otherwise, if the temperature goes up any further it’ll just seize up on us.” And so this time he was, he turned, he shut everything down and he went into auto rotation.

Julie 2:49

Auto rotation is when the helicopter flies with no engine. It’s still possible to fly a helicopter without the engine because the descent forces air through the rotor blades, causing them to rotate, which in turn slows the speed of descent so that the helicopter effectively glides down.

Kent 3:08

And he was, he was struggling with the cyclic er, cause he, of course when you shut off the engine you lose, you lose power control, you lose power on the controls and you have to work by muscle power. 

Julie 3:24

The cyclic is the stick that the pilot uses to control the direction of travel of the helicopter – left, right, forward, and back – by controlling the rotational plane of the rotor blades.

Kent 3:37

And I was, I was brought, I was on the radio sending out, sending out an SOS, “Mayday, mayday, mayday, helicopter Tango Echo Foxtrot, location East Greenland, going down.” Anyhow, we were over the ocean. It’s not a good idea to be over the ocean when you’re in a helicopter. But er, we managed, because we got, got up so high, and we managed, we managed to glide in on the auto rotation to a little island called Deception Island. And er, we landed on that, quite a hard landing actually, I mean we, we landed on, on a, a snow bank, hit the snow or the ice, bounced up in the air two or three times.

And then of course we were on some remote island and er, we had to be rescued. And we couldn’t expect anyone to come for us immediately so we had to overnight there. And for some reason we had no er, the helicopter was supposed to have emergency equipment on board, it was supposed to have an emergency tent. But it turned out that it was missing. And so er, I remember sitting out on, on the rocks there without a sleeping bag or tent or anything all night and freezing, just about freezing to death. It was terribly cold. And the pilot didn’t do any better. He was inside the helicopter and it wasn’t any warmer in there, I don’t think.

And then they came, they came from Aputiteq using the station cutter. And that was about er, I suppose about er, four or five hours sailing away. But the trouble was we were on top of this island and it turned out that er, the island sort of was convex and er, you’d be at the top of a slope and you’d go down the slope to get to the sea and the slope would get steeper and steeper. You’d go down and suddenly you’d find yourself on, on top of some cliffs and you couldn’t get to the beach anyhow. So we had to then climb up to the top again and try somewhere else. And we really had no idea where, where, where you could get, but in the end we found a gully where you could get down to a beach.

Anyhow, the long and short of all this was that er, the the boat came from Aputiteq with the mechanic on board. And they decided they would fly the chopper back to Aputiteq, the pilot and the mechanic. And they would fly in stages. When the temperature decided to rise, they would stop and let it cool off for a while. But they wouldn’t take, it wasn’t permissible to take any passengers on board under these conditions. We’d have to go back on the boat.

I remember stopping at this small, small island, skerries we called them and er, we er, stopped there and went ashore and were going to brew up some coffee. And Schatselmejer er, was going from the boat onto the rocks and he was carrying the bag of sugar and er, he somehow got tripped and went into the water and lost the sugar. And he came up like a drowned rat. And er, we had a, a Danish guy called Otto, who was massive and completely impervious to the cold. In fact, he’d lived on Aputiteq for years on end. He was quite used to the cold. He went around, went around when it’s freezing in a T-shirt. And er, Schatselmejer was er, shaking, shaking with the cold when he came up and Otto said to him, “Schatselmejer, you’ve er, you’ve lost the sugar. What are we going to do? We’ve got no sugar.” And we looked down, we could see in the clear water, we could see two or three metres down on a ledge was the sugar bag on it and you could see some sort of currents going from the sugar, the sugar bag, where the sugar was dissolving in the seawater. And he said, “You’ve got to go down there Schatselmejer and get our sugar. We can’t drink coffee without sugar.” So Schatselmejer got, dived down and picked it up. And I was really surprised he didn’t succumb to hyperthermia. I think we got him wrapped up and put into a sleeping bag after that. That’s the sort of fun we had.

Julie 7:46

I’m Julie Hollis and you’ve been listening to Polar Podcasts.

Julie 7:56

In the next episode, we hear more from Bjørn Thomassen about his one-man expedition exploring for copper and lead mineralization for the Nordic Mining company in 1973.