Back in the 1990s, I was chief mate aboard a supertanker at anchor one nautical mile from Drift River Terminal in Cook Inlet. The pumpman was making his morning rounds in the pump room. He was in the process of blowing down the water in the compressed air line water separator when the plastic bowl exploded, sending a shard through his lower lip and jaw into his mouth. I, being the medical officer, took one look at him and didn’t want to scar him for life. My practice of suturing at my 30-day med school consisted of stitching up a sponge. What a butcher job I did. Any other part of the body and I would have gladly “practiced” on him.
I called the Coast Guard and asked if they could help. They said that unless it was an emergency, their nearest boat from Anchorage was five hours one-way. “Sorry.” I called Drift River Terminal and they said “sorry.” I was out on the port bridge wing contemplating my next move when I noticed a helicopter flying out from the shore terminal. Nothing unusual, as they fly out to the loading platform for maintenance when unmanned. This helicopter started flying at us; he came up to the port bow, flew down the port side, around the stern, up the starboard side around the bow, down the the port side again and then landed on top of the port ballast tank. That was incredibly skilled/stupid.
I ran down to the main deck; the helicopter pilot was strolling toward me, “Where’s the patient.” The unmanned helicopter rotor blades were swishing just feet from the mast and center cargo purge standpipe. One slice through that and the boom could have been heard in Anchorage. That was the only spot he could have landed; the rest of the deck was cluttered with pipelines, winches, valves, etc. The unofficial motto of Alaska is “Get R Done.”
The pumpman was flown to Nikiski for transport to the hospital and, hours later, brought back on board. Ten days later, I removed the stitches; the stitches in the mouth were dissolvable. Little does that pumpman know today that if it hadn’t been for that crazy pilot, he might have looked like a pirate who lost a knife fight.
— Jack Worman
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