Jeng....jeng....jeng....Here I come again with a new episode of my flying experiences.
I had flown countless medivacs/casevacs/bodivacs sorties throughout my flying career. For now, Selamat Sawadee Ops was the scene of the episode and the sub-plot was casevac (casualty evacuation). Most of the time, these casevac cases involved our troops who were wounded either by being shot by the CTs or booby traps. Except for the danger of being a target practice, these sorties were otherwise just routine flights.
The tasking sheet looked something like this:
Kroh - LP 'L' GR...... Picked up Casevac
LP - Penang Polo Ground (Penang General Hospital ((PGH))
Penang - Kroh
'L' was the marker for the LP. There were so many LPs and the markers, eg, 'T', 'X', etc, were to differentiate these LPs. Simply, it was a white sheet placed on the ground for the pilots to see.
I would then proceed to the LP and if it was big enough, I would land and picked up the casevac. On the other hand, if there was no LP or the clearing was too tight for the nuri to land, then the casevac would be winched up. Of course I preferred to land rather than to hover for winching. Not only it would endanger the aircrew, it could be harmful to the troops too.
There was one sortie when I was tasked to pick up a casevac located at a given grid reference (GR). On reaching the location, there was a small clearing and I had to winch up the casevac. The downwash of the nuri, estimated at 60mph, caused a branch of a tree to fall on a soldier. Now, I ended up winching another casevac. I was told later on, that the first casevac, if I was not mistaken, was an Artillery officer. He was shot in the eye. Off loaded them at PGH and flew back to Kroh. Both survived but the officer lost one eye.
Then, waited for other tasks....meaning...casevacs! You see, troops' lift or resupply were preplanned by the the army; casevac was basically planned by the CTs and they never gave any warning when they strike!
I never had the chance to see these casevacs...to understand their agony. Most of the time I didn't even shut down the aircraft when offloading them. They were offloaded into the ambulance immediately on landing and I had to take off for Kroh. I didn't know what happened to them later on.
I promised myself that for the next casevac sortie I would like to see the victim. The opportunity came when I was tasked to pick up a casevac from an LP and offload at PGH. Another routine sortie. On the flight to Penang, I handed the control to my co-pilot and went to the cabin. There he was, lying on the seat with a bloodied-bandaged leg dangling. I was expecting to see someone unconscious or in extreme pain, but instead....he was smiling...no sign of pain at all! I was very sure he was administered with a strong painkiller. No way he could smile in that physical state. He was a member of RGK, ie, a commando. Shook his hand and went back to the cockpit.
Half way through the flight to Penang, the AQM relayed a request from the soldier. He requested that he be offloaded at Alor Setar. The reasons given were that he didn't want his leg to be amputated and secondly, he was from Alor Setar and liked to be with his parents. You see, I didn't know how far it was true, but it seemed those casevacs sent to PGH had their legs or hands amputated. So, these heroes would try their best not to be admitted to PGH.
Now, I was in a dilemma. Pilots could not simply change given destinations without extremely good reasons ,eg, bad weather. But then, the weather was perfect. 2 Division had made all the necessary arrangement at PGH. Well, out of compassion, I decided to divert to Alor Setar. This decision was relayed to the Base Ops Room and requesting them to arrange a reception party at any padang near Alor Setar Hospital. I would give my reasons later. I was then told to land at a race track near the hospital; the current no 3 green of the Royal Kedah Club. On landing, the hospital staff were running with the stretcher to climb aboard the nuri. When I looked at the cabin, there he was, refusing to lie on the stretcher and instead jumped from the seat step and hopping into the ambulance. What a sight! Task successfully completed and up..up..and away.
Ps: I didn't have to justify my decision to change routes, fortunately.
One day, I was in a taxi to Alor Setar. One of the passengers was without a leg and using a crutch. To break the monotony of the journey, I asked him what happened to his leg. He said that he was a commando operating in Kroh area. He accidentally stepped on a booby trap and his leg was seriously wounded. He had one nuri pilot to thank for sending him to Alor Setar instead of Penang. I told him that I was the pilot he was talking about! Terima kasih, tuan...terima kasih tuan...That was a real satisfaction.....!Apparently, his idea of not getting amputated in PGH was misled.
I'm happy to hear the Minister of Defence recent anouncement that the government is considering giving a special allowance to those personnel who became disabled/handicapped, or whatever you call it, during active duties. If the government can give a monthly pension to the Olympic silver medallist, this category of rakyat deserves monetory reward too. They are in their current physical state because they defended their beloved country....MALAYSIA.