Sit down boys and girls, it's STORY TIME!
I am composing a little presentation about communication and preparedness. I intend to use an example from my own past.
Today's story, "That's About It!"
Once upon a time, in the deserts of California, there were three friends and a prison guard with a pilots license. Eric, Nick and I wanted to make a parachute jump into a party waaaaay away from anything...in the middle of the night.
The regular pilot for the Cessna U-206 had worked all day, so Mark volunteered to fly us. The aircraft usually holds five jumpers, so we were pretty spread out with only three. It is best to plan everything ahead, so we all agreed that Erich would spot the plane over the target (tell us when to exit). This is accomplished by sticking your head out and deciding when you would release a bomb or a pumpkin or some such and have it strike the spot on the ground you want...then subtract the time it takes for the plane to slow down a bit and for the jumpers to get in position (this usually involves hanging off of the outside of the airplane for a few moments).
Well, Erich was going to spot, so he lounged next to the door; behind the pilot facing backwards. It was pitch black (but we could see because we had chemlites affixed to our frap hats (goofy leather helmets). Nick was behind Erich on the door side of the aircraft (the door was made out of heavy fabric and..yes...velcro) and I sat next to the pilot facing backwards. Mark and I talked and joked as we took off out of Cal City Airport. For about a half hour we climbed while heading east about 20 miles or so toward the Silver Saddle Country club. We were to land at the Shotgun range (the only lit area for many miles).
As we neared the exit altitude and the target area, Mark told me that he needed to make a 180 degree (or so) turn so that he would wind up pointed toward the target. He also said that we would have to look out and tell him when to stop turning the airplane because the for some reason, his directional instruments were not working. No problem. Can do. (deviation from plan) We rolled up the door.
At once it was windy, loud and dark. Quite ominous, but the promise of a cold beer, at last, on the ground brightened the night. Mark started the turn. Nick got up and put his goggles on, as did I, and we looked out into the abyss to tell Mark when to stop turning. As we lined up so the plane was pointed at the drop zone, i yelled, "THAT'S ABOUT IT!"
It went downhill from this point. heh. Apparently, in the dark and heat of the moment, the only person who remembered who was spotting the airplane was Erich. He was not rushed. Well, he wasn't rushed until Nick's assumption that I was spotting became set in stone; he climbed out the door and stood hanging onto the outside of the aircraft. I figured that with Nick climbing out, he must be spotting. The pilot saw the climbout commencing and powered the airplane back about the same time that Erich figured he was late and had assumed wrong. He rushed forward to the door (only about two feet in the small plane) and yelled "Ready!" Time to go, so "READY, SET, G...."
We joined with the blackness. The exit came off with the three of us as a piece (holding hands, if you will). With the glow from the chemlites, I could see Erich's goggles dancing above his head in the 120 mph wind. OOPS.
We broke off higher than planned due to Erichs vision problem (talk about dry eyes). I followed him as he tracked away until he opened up. I was worried about him. That and I had noticed that we were not over the drop zone.
After we landed in the pitch black, we gathered together (this took a bit) and started the walk of several mile walk through the desert to find the target. Somehow on landing Erich had managed to strike some kind of lean to building about the size of an outhouse. His leg was also sore because it was tangled with a seat belt as we left the aircraft.
We had plenty of time to debrief our predicament during the walk. Everybody thought it was someone elses fault. In the end, they blamed me. For years following, when I would see Nick, he would shout in a crusty English accent, "THAT'S ABOUT IT!"
And there is one vote for following procedure and plans for communication.