Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

Posted on July 3, 2017


All pilot training includes this little rule when faced with an emergency when in the air. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

By this the instructor pilots mean that you need to fly the plane first, then you can navigate (where am I???) and finally communicate (hello Atlanta Center, I’ve got a problem). It’s not going to help to tell Birmingham Air Traffic Control that you are in a death spiral in the clouds, nor is it going to help you to wonder exactly where you are. You need to deal with the emergency first and expeditiously. Then you can get on with figuring out where you are and talk about it.

Little did I know that on the morning of January 9, a Monday, at about 6:30 a.m. or so, I would need to remember to aviate first. I wasn’t in the air, but had just gotten up and was putting on some sweats when the dogs started barking at full throttle.

Strange, I thought, why would they do that?

They came rushing up the stairs and piling down the hallway towards our second-floor bedroom, and then I saw the smoke and could hear the crackling of a fire.
My house is on fire! The smoke advanced down the hallway like some hellish cloud of black, and I followed the dogs, running into the bedroom and met my wife Louise, now awake and in shock like me.

We need to get out! But we couldn’t go down the hallway into the black, choking smoke. It was pouring into the bedroom.

I picked up my cell phone and tried to dial 911 but couldn’t wait for the operator to pick up. Communicating was pointless.

I could see flames pouring out of our dining room windows below.

There was no time.

We needed to get out. We couldn’t go back, so the only way out was to open a window and jump from the second story room. Aviate first. No other thought.
I unlocked the window and rolled it open and below we could see EMTs running through the backyard knocking on windows and doors to see if anyone was trapped inside the house.

I helped my wife Louise crawl through the open window and as I grabbed her to let her down as far as possible, one of the EMT’s looked up and saw her.
“Don’t jump!” he yelled thinking perhaps she could hurt herself jumping so far. I really don’t know what he was thinking, other than trying to help us.
She looked down and let go and tumbled to the ground, hitting a brick grill in the backyard.

The smoke was now pouring through the window. I took one, maybe two, breaths and it choked me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. I dropped my head some.
My two Standard Poodles, Miller and Dudley, were there right at the window with me. I had one leg in and one leg out, straddling the window sill.

They are large dogs, but I never thought for a second. I grabbed one by the collar, lifted him up over the window sill, and dropped him into the yard below. He hit the ground like a cat and scampered to my wife.

The second Poodle followed and then it was my turn. By now one or two of the EMTs were waiting at the bottom of the window and I let go and landed on the ground in the backyard. I think they helped break my fall.

It was very cold that morning and they hustled us out to their ambulance where they gave my wife oxygen and observed us both, chattering we were so cold, or just from the shock.

Where are Flea, our Jack Russell Terrier, and Boo Boo Kitty which we just adapted a month ago from the Humane Society? And Fred, our other rescue dog? None survived. Fred’s body was brought out in a blanket about two hours later by the firemen who found him, but we never found Flea and Boo Boo.

Dave across the street loaned me socks and shoes and a heavy jacket. I wandered around the front of the house, surrounded by hoses, firemen, EMTs, and watched the house as the flames shot up and through the ceilings and roof.

Someone from a news service was streaming it live over Facebook. The next thing I knew I was on television with three or four stations. I just told the story.

Thinking about it came over the next few weeks.

Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday February 25, 2017 as Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

Posted in: Miscellaneous