Survival by Random Chance


Survival or death can pivot on the smallest things. When I was kid, I grew up in the Texas panhandle where my Dad worked as a chemist in the oil patch. By the mid-1950s, the heyday of Panhandle oil production was over, but there was still a lot of drilling in the Canadian River basin.It was always an event when a well “came in.” One Sunday morning, my Dad bumped out a dirt road to a field near Borger and I came along for the ride. As I recall, there was a little forest of wells and he was talking to one of the maintenance men about something when we heard an ear splitting hiss behind us.Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was watching a well blowout. I recall practically soiling my pants as the rig crew came off that platform in five different directions running for their lives. Shortly thereafter, a geyser of brownish gray drilling mud shot out of the well bore to a height at least twice that of the derrick. Then, the really amazing thing, an entire string of drill pipe followed the mud, gracefully arced through a cloudless sky and splashed into the mud pond next to the rig. It was probably over in under a minute.We were far enough away, but the roughnecks were plastered in mud from head to foot. I thought of that when I watched this interview with Mike Williams, a Deepwater Horizon survivor. His comment about mud being everywhere reminded me of that day in Texas. The interview is absolutely riveting.But the takeaway is a comment he makes toward the end of the interview. Several workers had escaped the burning rig in a life raft still attached to the rig with a painter line. And because the company had a policy prohibiting knives on the rig, no one had any means of cutting the line to a rig which was burning and sinking. Eventually, someone produced a tool and hacked the line, and the survivors escaped.As pilots-operators of machinery moving at high speed that usually functions correctly but sometimes doesn’t-most of us are equally complacent about the simplest survival steps. We don’t carry first-aid kits in the airplane, no water, no fire extinguishers, no basic tools to sever a tangled seatbelt.Although I try to pay attention to things like this, I’m just as guilty of complacency as anyone.Listen to this interview-I have twice-and you may have your eyes opened about preparation for survival in general, not to mention being more informed about the risks we expect people to take to produce the oil we rely upon to fuel our airplanes.