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Almost Landed On A Foreign Ship - A True Life Story

This a True Life Story which happened in the early nineties. That evening, sometime in the year 1990, was special. We were having a party on board our old steam ship. My ship was sailed out to Madras, now renamed as Chennai, which is the capital of the State of Tamil Nadu in India. The only purpose our ship was sent all the way to Chennai was to host a party for the crew of a visiting ship from the United Kingdom at Chennai for three days. Those days we did not have any ship at Chennai as most ships were out sailing at sea. It was just a day's sailing and we were at Chennai harbour. On berthing, we got the roders to send a team of 30 of our men and Officers headed by Navigating Officer to be sent to the British ship for a party on their helicpter deck. And in lieu, we were hosting 30 British sailors onboard our ship's helicopter deck. There was hardly any time and we all got ready as soon as possible. But at the last moment I was told to stay back.

We were two helicopter pilots onboard. My senior was to go and attend the party on the British ship which I too wanted to visit. But the opportunity was somehow gone because the Captain decided that between the two pilots, one must stay onboard to ensure that in case there is an emergency, there is someone who knows how to put the heilcopter out of its hangar on the deck and fly it off. As they all started coming in through the gangway, our gangway staff gracefully saluted each one of them because, they couldn't distinguish between sailor and officers, all wearing black pants and white shirt with a name tally on it, but no rank displayed. Only two out of 30 were Officers.

I was neither nominated to go to Charibdis, nor nominated to attend the party happening on our own hello deck. So, I was playing carrom board all alone in the wardroom wearing Red Sea Rig, when I heard my name being announced to appear on the hello deck where the party was going on, "SLt TW Mathews Helo deck, Captain".

I didn't know whether to be happy for being invited into the party or to be worried that the Captain has called for me. Either way, I did not have much of a choice. As I reached the helo deck, I saw my CO Cdr PP Singh, in deep conversation with a foreigner. The Captain called me over and introduced me to the foreigner, Lieutenant Commander Tinwood, the Flight Commander of HMS Charibdis who told me that his Lynx was AOG, so can our Alloutte land on their deck the next day.

Although it was Tinwood asking me the question, it was my captain who was waiting for the answer eagerly. I did not want to let my Captain down so, confidently looking at my CO I said, "Yes Sir."  I was not even offered one soft drink leave aside being asked to join the party. Instead, I was curtly dismissed by my CO who was already very high on spirit (foreign as well as Indian, I presume)

I had embarked for this 3 days sailing as copilot to Lieutenant Manivannan (Mani). He was not on board, which is why I was called to the helo deck, to take a decision on Charibdis deck landing without either of us being DLQ on it.

Late night when Mani was back I told him, "Sir, during the party I was called to take my views if we can land on HMS Charibdis". Mani asked, "So what did you tell them?" I said, "Sir, I told them we will". He looked at me for sometime and then asked, "When are we supposed to land on Charibdis?" I replied looking at my wrist watch, which was showing time past midnight, "Sir, today at 1000 hours is take off when Charibdis will be 18 NM on a track diverging at 45 degrees clockwise from ours to Vizag". He said, "OK, let us sleep".

As per plan we were airborn at 1000 hrs and somehow managed to reach Charibdis which never came on radio for about 15 minutes during which we kept yelling with the PTT kept pressed, the two of us alternating every three minutes because, we didn't know whether they can understand the mallu accent or the Tamil accent better.

We came to a hover next to the ship but saw that the ship was not ready for helo recovery in any way. The guard rails were all up. The Hanger door was shut and not a single soul on helo deck. As we started overflying the ship, we saw some people wearing just a Bermuda and lying on the hanger top, probably sunbathing.

That is when they saw us and started jumping into action. I saw Tinwood wave at us indicating 'Go Away', as he ran down the hangartop, clad in Bermuda.  The hello deck was prepared in about 5 minutes as we were hovering on the ship's starboard side into wind, facing the ship. LtCdr Tinwood and his copilot were on the hello deck wearing flying overalls and helping their potential men in lowering the guard rails.

But there was still no radio contact with Charibdis. We were communicating with people on deck with visual signs. LtCdr Tinwood indicated to us to land on deck and that he wants to come on board our Chetak to meet Trishul CO. He showed a big package which he said he wants to give to our Captain. As we slided on top of the helo deck to land as planned and briefed by CO himself, we heard the voice of CO Trishul on the radio, "Mani, don't land, return back immediately!"

For a few seconds we kept hovering on deck, not knowing what to do. Then we communicated to our CO, what LtCdr Tinwood wants. It was his turn to go blank now. After about a minute or so, the CO said, "OK, in that case you winch him up and bring them along". It was so embarrassing to tell even in sign language, that we can't land on your ship, please come onboard by rescue hoist. Once Tinwood was on board he wanted his copilot also to be winched up. We did not know how to deny so, winched up the copilot also on board.

As we approach the ship and gave finals call, it was the CO who replied, "Mani, don't land, just show them around the ship in low hover, take them back to their own ship and winch them down". Somehow we communicated our helplessness to LtCdr Tinwood, who fortunately was very understanding and mature. In the return flight, Lt Cdr Tinwood presented the two of us with a Charibdis tie clip and a cuff link each. He also presented a big packet for the CO Trishul, with a short shouting speech which we hardly could make out. We winched down both pilots on Charibdis and returned back. Our captain was on the helo deck to receive us. As the engine shutdown, he came towards aircraft and apologised for not letting us land on Charibdis to pickup the two pilots and also for not letting us land on on our own ship with these two pilots on board.

Captains worry as he explained later, "Either a photo of Chetak 431 sitting on HMS Charibdis deck or the news of these two Charibdis Officers visiting INS Trishul in Chetak 431 will be published next month in some magazine like the proceeding etc which would have been beyond me to explain to the CNS. We handed over the packet to CO, which he opened. It was a beautiful golden framed photo of HMS Charibdis. "Put it up in the wardroom", said the Captain, as he walked away happily smiling and relieved of everything.

A True Life Story


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