Sunday, 29 September 2013

The buffalo and the tail rotor

A bird-hit on the tail rotor is one thing....

The Cape buffalo is one mean animal.
They tend to look at you as if you owe them money.
They have no qualms about collecting, either.

Dead buffaloes are famous for getting up and wreaking havoc. Some hunters say all buffaloes are born sick, and every time you hit it, it gets a little healthier.

Many years ago buffalo, like elephant, were regularly culled in the Kruger National Park. Some thirty animals would be separated from the herd. This was accomplished by means of some very hair-raising aerobatics with a Bell Jetranger helicopter.
The door behind the pilot having been removed, the ranger would hang halfway out of the chopper, darting the animals with an overdose of Scoline. That was before the days of modern dart guns. A modified double barrelled shotgun was used, the darts propelled by .22 blanks. Extreme skill was required from both the shooter and the pilot to put down thirty buffalo in an area accessible to the ground crew, and in as small an area as possible. Infinitely more hectic (and dangerous) than culling elephant.

On this particular day everything went according to plan, and between Piet Otto (pilot) and Andrew Hofmeyer (ranger) they did a splendid job.

Piet put the chopper down in a nearby clearing while the ground crew moved in, Eric Wood administering the necessary coup de grace where indicated.  Andrew had gotten out and was standing with his back to the action, busily picking up the .22 casings strewn throughout the helicopter. The engine was still running, as it takes a couple of minutes for the turbo to cool sufficiently to shut down.

A 'dead' buffalo suddenly jumped up and came charging directly at the blissfully unaware Andrew.  Eric could not shoot for fear of hitting either Piet or Andrew. Piet still had his earphones on, and Andrew couldn't hear the shouting above the din. Andrew interpreted the warning shots as Eric doing his job. The buffalo was closing fast, and nobody could do anything about it.

It was one of those moments where time stood still and everyone stopped breathing.

At the very last moment before impact, the buffalo seemed to decide that the spinning tail rotor would be a more worthy adversary than Andrew's relaxed backside, and it changed course.

The damage to the helicopter was horrendous and very, very expensive.

That was the last time the chopper was allowed to land without the 'all clear' from Eric.

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