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Blake Erickson (And Colleagues)

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The recent tragedy, the depth of which I do not believe has been fully realized, has had me thinking about things and doing some soul searching this last week. There were three people, all from industry, who perished aboard that flight near Terrace. I knew two of the people aboard, but had never had the pleasure of meeting Arnaud Jolibois, although I hear he was a great guy. The pilot who was the first one identified, Peter Bryant, and I graduated from high school together. He was a very quiet fellow with an exceptional sense of humor that you would miss if you weren't sitting near to him. I haven't seen him in about 26 years and did not know he was a pilot until this accident. I wish I had not lost contact and had been provided with the opportunity to hear of his adventures and misadventures (often the far better stories) before he departed for his next assignment.

 

The third person onboard the flight I believe deserves special mention. Blake Erickson was not a pilot, as had been previously reported in the media, then subsequently corrected. He was an engineer, and if I may say so, one of the best in this country. In a truly ironic twist of fate, given the result of the flight last week, he absolutely hated to fly! This wasn't due to any worry on his part that he might have assembled something incorrectly, but was more of a deep respect for the law of gravity and the feeling that the more one tempts fate the more likely it is that fate will have had enough. For Blake to end up in that aircraft on that day is the result of many disparate threads all somehow coming together in a tapestry that speaks of nothing but pure grief. Of all the engineers I have ever met and known, I believe Blake has had as large, or perhaps larger, of an impact on more pilots and engineers than any other.

 

Engineers experience the helicopter industry in a different way than pilots do. Pilots usually start out at smaller outfits that do seasonal hires, or work for larger companies in a "keep your mouth shut for three years and we'll give you a chance" system. When they do start flying they work in remote locations and have little interaction with anyone but the engineer and the client. When they have enough time they live in places often far removed from where they work. They rotate in and rotate out, only ever seeing their relief pilot or the pilot they're relieving. There is little or no chance to build camaraderie, or even to know who else works for the same company as them.

 

Contrast this with engineers, who have to endure a regimented apprenticeship and often share accommodation and vehicles with others in the same situation. Engineers truly get to know their peers as they work with them, side by side, for years. Even when they have enough experience and may perhaps leave their first company to pursue "pool" work, they still see and work with other engineers. Very few companies don't have a winter maintenance schedule which provides field engineers opportunities to become reacquainted with their friends and colleagues as they assist each other, in the warmth of a hangar, getting ready for the next lawn mowing season. This environment provides opportunities for exceptional engineers to influence, mentor, cajole, beer fine, and otherwise make better employees of, their peers, and even of the pilots they tolerate but who don't belong to their fraternity.

 

Blake was just such an exceptional engineer, and stood out amongst his exceptional brethren. Blake could have retired on the proceeds of his beer fine system. More apprentices had to buy beer for the hangar with Blake in charge, then would have been needed in order to bail out the Titanic back in 1912 (another tragedy whose centenary was just a couple of months ago). On top of apprentices, Blake also had a tremendous influence on the low time pilots who fell under his tutelage. I had a pilot once tell me that "never mind making principal payments on <their> training debt", in fact they were "afraid of missing interest payments or not being able to buy food". This form of tough love produced some excellent pilots and ingrained a work ethic that I have never seen matched. I still remember going on a short local flight once and being fearful the entire flight duration that Blake would notice I had left the aircraft documents and logbook behind. The relief I felt when I returned and he was still busily working away on an aircraft across the room cannot be expressed in words. Having to buy beer aside, it was the admission of a failing on your part that made it hard to bear and ensured you would think more clearly next time. Years removed from working directly with Blake, I still hear people (pilots and engineers) say "boy, would Blake ever be all over you if he was here", or, "wow, Blake would never have to buy beer again if he worked with you". Beer fines may not be a TC approved way of implementing SMS, but I have seen them work with a great deal of effectiveness in the hands of such a man as Blake.

 

Blake lived for his kids... of which we used to refer to him as having a "million of". It isn't often that one meets a man who has a tremendous work ethic, combined with an exceptional skill level, who puts his children first. Blake was an absolutely awesome engineer, but he worked to live, he didn't live to work. I hope they know who their father was and how many people he affected in his lengthy career, which came to a short and tragic end just a few days ago.

 

I can't believe he's gone... And in a helicopter... I can't ever recall him making an error, although I'm sure he did as he was only human. I always hoped I would catch him in one, so I could assess a beer fine... But it looks like he won this round.

 

Bye Blake, you'll be missed by dozens of former apprentices and low time pilots.

 

Corey

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Thank you for writing this Corey. Blake was a friend,a team member,a leader,a teacher,and a role model. I knew Blake for 21 years. We both moved to Fort St John in 1991 to work at the NMH base.We consumed huge amounts of the necter of the gods(Kokanee).When I came back to the Hanger 2 years ago was glad to see Blake. I will miss him lots as I always will remember his patience with pilots. Please remember the famillies of our lost friends. Rest in peace my friend God speed.

 

Steve Schulte.

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Like Steve, I met Blake as a young pilot in 1992 when I moved to Ft St John also to work for NMH. It is true that Blake truly loved his kids. Also, I agree, he was an excellent engineer that caught EVERYTHING! I will share my Blake story wherein I learned a valuable lesson:

 

One morning after Blake had completed an inspection on my helicopter, he took me to the side for a private talk. "Stop doing hammerheads" he said.

 

"Whaaaat... I ....uh....um...I don't do hammerheads...." I stammered. (I was young and immortal back then.)

 

He held up a bearing and asked: "See this? If this goes then so do YOU, and this wears out when you do hammerheads...so stop doing hammerheads." He had me and I knew it and so did he. "Listen" he said "nobody knows but me and it ends here but never, and I mean never, try to hide something from your engineer because we see everything!"

 

I can honestly say from that day forward to this day, I have always been truthful to my engineers. I have deep respect for Blake as he was a man of his word and an excellent engineer. And yes, a private Kokanee fine was paid.

 

Blake, you will be missed. Rest in Peace Amigo, may God grant you and your family His perfect peace!

 

 

Rob Dyck

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I had the great privilege of starting my career with Blake as my engineer and as Corey had mentioned his tough love way of life. I can not express how much I appreciate this type of up bringing.

 

To this day my After Last Flight is looked at as "what could Blake beer fine me for?" Battery still plugged in that was always a good one, dirty trays thats beerable, and don't even talk about not having your log book, for sure thats a flat! Thats the way it was, stay on your toes or its a trip to the beer store...... and trust me I made a lot of trips to the beer store!

I think its funny how Blakes beer fine policy made him such a meticulous engineer. He knew that the cross hairs where always on him everyone always wanted to get Blake, I (and many others) so desperately made it our goal to get Blake in a beer fine..... something.... anything! But no he always checked, then double checked everything he did, it was like he was untouchable....... or unbeerable.

 

I have many fond memories with Blake, he really was more than just your base engineer or friend he was "big daddy Blake" he was our father figger for us so young in the industry, he looked after all of us.

 

Pilot or AME we were all Blakes apprentice.

 

You will be missed, but never forgotten Zack.

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Nicely said Corey.

It must be 13+ years since I last saw or even talked to Blake. He was the Ft. St John base engineer when I was at the Mackenzie base for NMH.

I recall Blake being an outstanding engineer and a great individual.

Our industry will miss him greatly.

Condolences to his family and friends.

 

Andrew Bradley

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Well said Corey....

 

I have worked and played with Blake for about 22 years, that is over half my life.

Words can not describe the loss we all feel after this tragic event.

To me, and I know to many others, Blake was an inspiration. An example of how to do things the right way. He knew how to share a few laughs, and a few beers, and it was always a pleasure to join him in both.

 

As a young fresh faced apprentice, full of piss and vinegar and actually quite stupid, I was a bit of a hand full. But Blake always had patience for me and was able to explain things in a way that I would understand.

He even taught me how to pick up girls!!! For that alone I am eternally grateful!!!

 

I owe much of who I am today to Blake Erickson, My world is a lesser place without him in it.

 

In sorrow

Jason Pinchbeck

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I am better for having known Blake. I found out about his passing 2 hours after getting engaged for perhaps the most emotional day of my life. To say Blake hated to fly was an understatement. His understanding of machines that chew air like they hate it while seeming to defy of the laws of physics played into that, but so do the close calls I'm sure he had. He definately did not like it when you tucked the nose coming out of a a hover power check, but he couldn't have been cooler or more professional in dealing with.....uh....the pilot.

Everyone who knew Blake would agree with Corey's post-the knowledge,the patience, the professionalism and the ability to make everyone around him better. After travelling back from camp with him and telling him off-hand about a rattle in my front wheel that I was quoted 1600 dollars to get fixed, Blake laid down in the mud and puddles to have a look for himself while I kicked the tire until my toes were sore so he could isolate the rattle. I kicked that tire so many times that the right side of his face wore all the water and dirt from my now clean boot. All for a guy he hardley knew after 14 hours of work. THAT is the kind of guy Blake was! When I came back from time off I left a cube of Kokanee on his chair with a note that said "wakey wakey eggs and Blakey, thanks for saving me 1600 bucks." Later I would find out that he was off shift and his beers ended up in the "rotating apprentice" fridge/locker-which I probably drank anyways, so thanks again Blake.

You never got the impression that you were bothering Blake. He ALWAYS took the time to explain things to you no matter how stupid the question was (and thinking back there were a couple I am embarrased not to have known). Blake, I learned a lot from you- not just about aircraft and real estate, but about professionalism and how to be a better man. May who you were be reflected in the rest of us, and your impact echo in eternity.

 

Steve Mardis

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I was an apprentice of Blake's, and I will say he was one of the most influential engineers that I ever worked for and learned from. I will always remember the knowledge and the stories that he shared with me, along with the laughs and the beers. I hoisted a Kokanee in his memory on learning of his tragic death; and I know that many of the VIH boys did the same.

 

You are missed Blake. My condolences extend to your family and friends, and the many pilots and engineers that remember you fondly. Your passing is a great loss to this industry.

 

Scott Clark

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