From the Field

Rock and roll in a dump truck

Posted: Nov 28, 2012 8:51 AM ET Last Updated: Nov 28, 2012 8:51 AM ET
Hercules 334 chases a brilliant moon to the western horizon as the orange glow from the east warms its tail. There are 10 of us on board, headed out to keep an eye on the flotilla of trap-laden lobster boats headed to sea. Flying in a Herc is like going to a rock concert. It's so loud you can barely think and you get tossed around a lot.

The four big props pulling the Herc through the sky fill the plane with a constant roar. There is no noise dampening insulation in the thin walls. The Herc is about work, not comfort. There are no seats with trays that can be stowed in an upright position. There are solid seats for the crew but guests strap into a canvas bench for take off and landing. In flight you wander around the back trying not to fall down.

The Major up front calls his Herc a dump truck with wings. Hard to argue that.

The SAR techs are the rock stars up here. Dennis Van Sickle has the look. The Ontario-farm-boy-turned-Search-and-Rescue-tech sprawls on the floor beside his observation window. His bright orange jumpsuit catches the sunlight. Hollywood shades hide his eyes. His back is propped against four tightly packed ten-man life-rafts as he peers down at the lobster fleet.

Imagine lying in the grass looking up at a pale blue sky. Now fill it with white vapour trails marking hundreds of high-flying jets, each on a slightly different course. That's what the lobster fleet looks like from up here. If Van Sickle is impressed, he doesn't show it. Until the first call.

The shades go and Van Sickle is on his knees, eyes pressed to the window. A boat is dead in the water near a rocky island. He tells the pilot to bring it down the left side. The boat slips directly under the left side observation window. At this point it's hard to say who is really flying the plane. The Herc is at 500 feet, Van Sickle sees the anchor line pulled tight. The dead boat is secure and a Coast Guard cutter is bearing down. He leans back against the life-rafts.

In seconds he is on his feet. Pacing a little. A new call. A man fell from a boat. He's back on board but hypothermic. Van Sickle is a paramedic. He knows what that means. He has an ambulance load of medical supplies packed into a jump bag. He's on the balls of his feet, ready to strap it onto his chest, put the parachute on and jump. His body relaxes. A Cormorant helicopter is close by. Another rock star will ride the winch down to the boat and lift the man to safety. It's not Van Sickle's time.

The third call. A lobster boat taking on water, the crew in survival suits. Van Sickle and his partner pull an orange drum up onto the rear ramp. It's a waist-high oil barrel with a parachute attached. It holds a high volume pump.

The ramp opens. Loud gets louder. The world tilts. The line between sky and water cuts from the bottom right corner to top left as the Herc circles. Van Sickle is back on his knees, face against the window. He talks to the pilot who forces the bulky plane's left wing down further to show Van Sickle more.

He drops a raised hand, the barrel is pushed off the ramp. It floats to the water beneath a bright yellow chute. The crew below pulls it aboard. The pump moves 200 gallons a minute, more than enough. The white wake behind the boat shows it is leaving the scene.

The big ramps move slowly back into place, so does Van Sickle. This show is over, the dump truck heads home.
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About the Author

Phonse Jessome has been chasing stories down the main streets and back roads of Nova Scotia since the spring of 1981. So far he is showing no signs of giving up the chase.

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