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thedrifter
11-16-05, 06:48 PM
Caution: This could get ugly
November 16,2005
BY JOE MILLER View stories by reporter
DAILY NEWS STAFF

For the Marines fighting in Iraq, danger is all around — particularly for helicopter pilots.

Capt. Damian Todd, who pilots CH-46 Echo helicopters, spent seven months there transporting Marines, along with vital gear and supplies, to the front. The safety of those on board requires cooperation and communication.

"Everyone’s life depends on how every single member of the crew interacts," said Todd, a member of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 based at New River Air Station.

Whether flying a helicopter over a battlefield or a commercial jet from Jacksonville to Charlotte, pilots are in a line of work that requires the utmost in safety. After all, it’s one of the professions with the highest number of fatalities.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, aircraft pilots, flight engineers and commercial fishers — professionals with a firm foothold on the local job scene — joined logging workers as those whose occupations have the highest death rate.

Last year, there were 5,703 fatal work injuries reported in the United States — an increase of 128 from 2003. Also in 2004, there were 92 deaths per 100,000 workers for the logging and aircraft industries. There were 86 deaths per 100,000 in the commercial fishing business.

Scary, right?

Maybe so, but with the added danger comes a laundry list of procedures designed to ensure safety. It’s something local pilots and fishermen say they take extremely seriously.

Todd, 29, from Monroe, N.Y., said there is an extensive list of pre-flight safety procedures that must be followed. They are especially important for the CH-46 choppers because many of them date back to the 1960s.

"It entails a lot of people, and it takes a lot of man hours," he said.

Moreover, crewmembers participate in a briefing before every mission begins.

"In the brief, you walk through exactly what you’re going to do in the mission, and you have the entire air crew there," Todd said.

Todd said the Marines follow a book on how to properly maintain the aircraft, and the helicopters are checked and then double checked.

Before taking off, pilots walk around the aircraft and check the cockpit, transmission and flight controls to make sure they’re working properly.

"If one bolt is missing from flight controls, it can be disastrous," Todd said.

And in the cockpit, he said, safety is more important than rank.

"There could be a lance corporal in the back," he said. "I’m a captain. Lance corporal in the back (could) say ‘sir, do not do that.’"

Todd said safety procedures and teamwork make him feel safe upon takeoff.

"I don’t feel, when I go flying, I’m doing something very dangerous," he said. "I’m just doing my job."

William Smith Fish House in Beaufort knows just how dangerous commercial fishing can be. Back in May, employee Brian Lewis, 43, of Beaufort, fell to his death off the coast of New Jersey while working in a boat’s rigging.

Leslie Daniels, owner of the fish house, said Lewis had gone into the rigging to fix the shackles. He slipped and fell. The medical examiner ruled Lewis died of severe head injuries.

Weather conditions were calm at the time Lewis fell, but weather is one of the most dangerous aspects of the job, Daniels acknowledges.

"It is a dangerous job," she said. "You’re working with Mother Nature."

Daniels said all fishermen must follow Coast Guard regulations. Fishing boats need to have safety equipment, including life rafts. The Coast Guard also conducts safety drills.

Daniels said her fishermen are trying to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

"I’m sure," she said, "everybody is more aware of what they’re doing."

Contact Joe Miller at jmiller@freedomenc.com

Ellie