Head Logo Picture Text Logo

Link to Home page

Link to news pictures

Link to features photos

Link to travel pictures

Link to my books

Link to articles and other writing

Link to tools and equipment

Go to links page

Link to credits page

Distress and Diversion

"Ejecting!" The pilot managed to transmit only one word as his fighter aircraft disintegrated over the Wash. In a small windowless room in West London air traffic controllers heard the final brief message. On a glass wall map red lines of laser light shot out to converge on the aircraft's position. A controller instantly located a nearby helicopter on a routine flight and directed it to the crash site. It arrived before the pilot's feet had touched the water. Fifteen minutes later the pilot was in hospital.

This kind of incident is routine for the officers of the Distress and Diversion Cell (D & D) which provides a 24 hour, year round, aeronautical emergency service. It's sole purpose is to provide immediate assistance to any aircraft, military or civil, in difficulty which it did 1634 times in 1988.

The controller's 10 hour shift consists of long periods of boredom interspersed with bursts of frantic activity. One controller recently had to deal with 3 emergencies at the same time.

An ability to improvise under pressure is vital. One night a helicopter was flying a young girl with liver failure from the south coast to London for emergency treatment. The pilot was worried that he might not be able to find the hospital at night and called D & D. The controller came up with the idea of asking the police to have a high speed car waiting on the outskirts of London to lead the low flying helicopter straight to the hospital.

Link to contacts page