By Captain (R) Abdul Rahmat Omar
Franklin slams on the brakes of his Truffade Adder, exits his car and gets into a lift (or elevator, depending on the part of the world you are from) all the way to the rooftop of a building in Los Santos where he boards a helicopter on the rooftop helipad. A simple press of the R2 button and he’s off into the air.
He flies above the serene Mount Gordo without any problem, then lands the helicopter at the airfield in Sandy Shores before hijacking a Canis Mesa listening to East Los FM.
That is how simple flying a helicopter is to some…especially on their Grand Theft Auto V game.
If only life is as simple as according to the whiners out there. Unfortunately, it is not.
Many whine and complain about the late response by the military, Fire and Rescue Services Department, police etc., to rescue stranded climbers on top of Mount Kinabalu after a M5.9 earthquake killed 19 climbers, trapped more than a hundred others, and damaged or destroyed buildings in Ranau, southeast of the mountain. An Australian climber even lambasted the Malaysian authorities to the world’s press. On Facebook, keyboard pilots echo the psychotic behaviour of the Australian climber, criticizing the so-called delay in response by the authorities.
So why can’t a Franklin just fly the helicopter to the peak of Mount Kinabalu? The only Franklin I knew who flew close to Mount Kinabalu was my squadmate, Lieutenant Gabriel Buja Joel RMAF, who rescued British SAS who got lost near the mountain in 1995. For that he was awarded the Air Force medal (Pingat Tentera Udara) and a medal from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In 2003, Gabriel was unfortunately killed near Lawas, by another mountain.
What am I getting at?
Mountain Waves Turbulence! It is the unseen nightmare that has brought down a number of airliners and helicopters, including late Gabriel’s, and damaged a whole bunch more worldwide. It is so violent and unforgiving that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the US had issued a specific instruction just for mountain flying.
To safely fly above a mountain pass, a clearance of at least 2,000 feet above the highest pass an aircraft is to cross. On top of that, mountain flying is not recommended if the winds aloft are greater than 25 knots as potentially dangerous turbulence as well as strong up and down drafts are likely to occur. I will go deeper into this later.
On 10th January, 1964, a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber (tail number 61-023) had its vertical stabilizer (or tail if you want to) sheared off by mountain waves after flying above the Rocky Mountains at 14,000 feet.
On 9th December 1992, a DC-8 aircraft of the American International Airways had its Engine No.1 sheared off by mountain wave turbulence.
Both aircraft and crew above were lucky to make it back alive. Others like Gabriel weren’t so lucky.
Most of the time, those who frequently look at Mount Kinabalu from far could see streams of clouds occasionally envelope the mountain. Let me show you a photo taken from one of the rescue helicopters that attempted to land at Laban Rata:
The visibility can change drastically and in Alaska, many pilots and passengers have perished thinking the visibility would remain clear all the time.
But the weather was clear and the stranded climbers could see all the way down!
Did they watch what was above? Clear visibility also means high winds have pushed away the clouds. What you need to look above are those thin, long clouds that we who have our feet firmly planted on the ground and head that stays on our neck unlike those who suffer from psychosis call Lenticular clouds.
As you can see, beneath the lenticular clouds are what meteorologists call rotor – a turbulent horizontal vortex generated around the “troughs” of mountain wave activity. Rotors could either push an aircraft upwards, or slam it down to the ground as shown in the diagram below:
In the end, the helicopters did manage to get to Laban Rata to bring down bodies and some of the injured victims. Of course not to the instance wanted by the climbers.
Yes, the Kinabalu Park guides are the heroes in this most unfortunate tragedy. Why them and not the soldiers or pilots or firemen or the police? They are the ones with the best knowledge of the area. Even of some trails have been cut off, they would still be able to find their way up and down the mountain because they are most familiar with the area. I salute them, as I salute the other rescuers who have and still are risking their lives trying to bring down the stranded climbers as well as bodies of the victims.
So, stop whining and forget what you have watched on TV or in the movies. Life does not work like how the directors want you to believe. And helicopter flying is nothing like how Franklin does it in GTA V.
Let the professionals do their job!