3:35am, I receive a phone call while asleep at home in Manchester from an unknown number.
Reluctantly, I roll over and answer. “Matt, pack a bag, you’re off to Texas” are the first words which are blurted out to me after a mumbled “Hello”?
Still trying to get my head around the fact it’s 3:35am, I confirm “I’m going to Texas? When?”.
“In about 5 hours. Check your emails and I’ll give you call at a more sociable hour it’s urgent, sorry mate”. And that was that.
Thankfully, I hadn’t disturbed the wife, somehow, so I stumbled downstairs and checked my emails.
Sure enough, boom, first one in my inbox, a flight itinerary from Manchester to Houston, leaving in no more than a couple of hours.
I set an alarm for 7am, and head back to bed.
After what seemed only a couple of minutes, my alarm goes off.
“Why have you set an alarm”? A confused wife asks.
And so I go on to explain, for some unknown reason, I am heading to Houston on the 10:40 Singapore Airlines flight to Houston.
Being a lover of everything aviation, I am somewhat excited to be flying an A350, however, usually for such trips I would travel to London, discuss what is happening and continue the journey from there, so the fact I am booked on a flight direct to Houston rings some alarm bells in my head, completely unaware at this point of Hurricane Harvey. Airline: Singapore Airlines
Route: Manchester, UK to Houston-Intercontinental, Texas
Scheduled Departure: 10:40
Actual Departure: 11:27
Scheduled Arrival: 14:30
Actual Arrival: 14:48
Flight Duration: 9 hours 50 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Airbus A350-900 (9V-SMD)
Class: Business Class
I arrived at Terminal 2 at around 09:30, the majority of the morning departures had gone meaning the terminal was nearly empty. The queue for the Singapore check-in is going down quickly, thankfully i’m able to jump into the completely empty priority lane.
Check-in was easy, they tagged up my bag and off it went, and I proceeded to security.
Again, and to my surprise, security was not particularly busy, and the priority lane was completely dead so security was a breeze, which isn’t the norm for T2 which can be hectic at the best of times.
From here, I headed to the Swissport lounge for a quick breakfast.
The breakfast spread is pretty good here, especially as you can pay to get in here too it’s better than most pay to enter lounges. I got a few things and a coffee and took a seat.
I got a phone call from the unknown number again, and he explained that I was heading to the Gulf to assist in the evacuation of the GoM oil rigs due to Hurricane Harvey.
Ah, now it makes sense.
Suddenly I wasn’t as excited as usual to be going, I felt more of a serious, sense of urgency about the trip, as a former Royal Marine Commando, I get an unhealthy sort of thrill out of things like this. So in other terms, I was another form of excited.
I had several documents emailed to me, to read and write up on while in the air, so I had a busy couple of hours ahead of me.
Boarding was called at 10:15.
Of course, it was called in priority order.
The first group of us embarked onto the buses, which took us to the shiny, fresh out of the packet Airbus A350 waiting patiently for us on the remote stand.
I boarded through door 1L, and I was warmly greeted onboard by a very welcoming crew.
I was escorted personally to my seat, the lovely girl took my jacket and put it in the locker and took my bag and placed it away.
A few seconds later, she returned with a selection of newspapers, and a choice of Water, Orange Juice or Champagne, or all of them she joked. I took an Orange Juice, but declined with the paper.
The “new business class” seats onboard the A350 are quite honestly sub-par to what you’d expect.
If you are anything over 5’3” you will struggle to fully fit yourself within the lay flat bedspace, and so you have to angle yourself diagonally towards the window to fit in properly. If you bend your knees, you smash them into the compartment where the TV is held, which as I found out, is not only painful, also freezes the TV for a couple of seconds.
However when sat upright, the seat is very spacious with a great deal of legroom, almost like an optical illusion as you turn it into a bed and find yourself being compacted together.
The storage space within the bed is great, lots of places to put things when you can’t be bothered to put them away.
Behind us, the remainder of boarding continued.
The captain came over the PA welcoming us onboard, explaining the weather, the route, and that we were experiencing a short delay due to ATC restrictions.
Shortly after, the door closed, and the safety demonstration played.
As we pushed back, I realised that it was myself and just 7 others in this 26 bed part of Business Class.
In my head I questioned whether SQ were making profit on this route. I then remembered we were flying into a hurricane.
After push-back, we sat here for about 25 minutes without moving. The crew passed again and offered more Water, OJ and Champs, sincerely apologising to us and genuinely looking like they meant it.
Another OJ, and I stared out the window at a group of men dressed like penguins, boarding a TUI 738 at a remote stand opposite us.
Eventually, we made our way to the runway, the crew came and collected our glasses as made a rolling take-off from 23R, much to the delight of the spotters at the “Airport Pub” which sits at the end of the runway.
The climb out was smooth, and we made a long left turn taking us North-West.
On offer on the menu today, first off was Lunch.
To be honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to the menu as I wanted to crack on with the work I had to do as soon as the seatbelt sign turned off.
The crew were quite amazing, as she approached me, she apologised sincerely for disturbing me, when she realised I wasn’t going to bite her head off, she asked if I was busy and if I would like some food or a drink.
I was quite hungry, however hadn’t looked at the menu.
She asked if I would like just a starter, or just a main instead of having the full meal, and I asked for just a main, she recommended the Stuffed Chicken with Mushrooms.
I trusted her recommendation, I asked for a coke too, as I didn’t particularly want to get on the booze at this time of the morning, despite her trying to convince me to get a red wine.
What must have been around 25 minutes later, the food arrived, piping hot, freshly cooked and smelling delicious.
She bought another 2 cokes and water with her, stating she didn’t want to disturb me later on so I could carry on working.
The food, was absolutely amazing, probably one of the best, if not the best thing i’ve eaten onboard an aircraft.
I demolished it, quite literally.
The crew were on the ball, and my tray was cleared promptly and quietly.
For the next few hours, I continued with the work I had to do, in nearly complete silence.
The crew would keep bringing me fresh glasses of iced water which I greatly appreciated.
I had a brief break mid-way over the atlantic.
Clearly, this was noticed, as the same fantastic lady came over and asked if I would like something a bit more flavoursome than water, and if I would like anything from the “delectables” menu (noodles/sandwiches etc).
I wasn’t really in the mood for food, however, when offered a slice of Chocolate Orange Cake and a cup of coffee who am I to say no?
The cake was sublime, the coffee was good too.
She asked in advance if I would like a light dinner later on, however i politely declined, in favour of finishing off what I have to do and catching up on some sleep, as I had a feeling I would be lacking this in the upcoming days.
She insisted of topping me up with water through the flight so I didn’t become dehydrated while working, almost like my mother, it felt pretty good they took this amount of care over the pax.
I noticed, every time she produced this glass of water, there was a different slice of fruit in it each time, Orange, Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Watermelon, the lot!
The flight continued without any more noteworthy events. I carried on working, and managed to catch 2 hours of uncomfortable sleep at an almost 90 degree angle.
We approached Houston, the weather was cloudy, not particularly what I had imagined when I boarded in Manchester, I was almost expecting a 2012/The Day After Tomorrow type kind of scene, however, a strong wind and cloudy was almost like what we had just left behind in the UK.
The arrival wasn’t exactly scenic, however we made a smooth touchdown, and we taxied to the gate.
We disembarked onto an air bridge, I said goodbye to the absolutely wonderful SQ crew, and made my way to customs, before collecting my bag and getting into the car.
I made my way to the Marriott in downtown Houston where there was a scheduled “emergency” meeting between all the big wigs of the various companies involved (Yeah, apparently i’m a “big wig” now too!
The atmosphere was noticeably tense, however after a discussion, the plan of action was decided, and was to be carried out. The evacuation of the oil rigs started at 3am this morning, however, many still have personnel aboard.
Note, at this point in time, the hurricane was around 2 hours from striking the first of the oil rigs, the expected time for it to hit land was 02:45am. The time now, 16:20.
In the meeting, we were told the hurricane was around 70 miles South-Southeast of the furthest rig, we were told to expect “a life threatening and catastrophic heavy rainfall”.
On that note, Disneyland Paris flask full of tea in hand, we boarded a bus to Galveston, TX.
Around 18:00, we arrived in Galveston.
We were split into groups, 3 different helicopters (All of which, had flight crews who volunteered to fly, as Bristow had grounded all air movements).
However, only myself and one other from our company, boarded the Sikorsky S-92, bound for the GoM.
Other helicopters departed to various other oil rigs, some belonging to other oil companies were in particular danger and so had priority.
I donned my immersion suit, and we ran to the helicopter. We made a quick take-off, and flew almost in a formation to the rig.
As I mentioned in previous reports, my role is the Safety of the Oil Rig, as well as the Safety and Welfare of the guys and gals working hard onboard, so essentially, this hurricane is fully heading down my street.
We landed first, and we jumped out, 19 workers jumped in, ready to go, and took off. This repeated twice with the other 2 choppers, and they departed into the distance.
The wind was intense, it was becoming dangerous to stand near the edges of the platform.
The floorhands and drillers had done a magnificent job in closing the well, so if any damage to the rig occurred, there would be no spillage of oil, or danger to the environment.
Time seemed to stand still, as myself and the workers waiting the passage to safety waited patiently for the helicopters to return.
Oddly enough, spirits were quite high onboard. Many were sat in the cafeteria, watching the news of the hurricane unfold on a TV which had a very muffled signal. Many were happy to be leaving the rig and getting to go home early.
Finally, after what seemed hours, the helicopters returned.
The second and third having to make several attempts at landing in the very strong winds, something which they should not be doing.
And just like that, more workers boarded, and they were off again.
According to the news, the hurricane was expected to strike land at 03:00am now, apparently the hurricane has been delayed 15 minutes to what I was told earlier. ATC Restrictions maybe.
The time was now approaching 22:30.
The wind on the rig became stronger, so myself, along with the Offshore Installation Manager (OIM), made the decision for everybody to return indoors, and we would announce when the helicopters were arriving so people could go out. The last thing we wanted was somebody to get blown into the terrifying sea below, which had turned so dark it was almost grey, with waves splashing so high the bottom platform of the derrick was getting wet.
It seemed, at this point, we were stuck.
This particular rig was a conventional rig, nailed to the seabed, however, the other rig under my power is not a conventional rig which is nailed to the seabed, it is a Semi-Submersible, meaning the rig itself floats, and several pipes connect it to the seabed. The pipes allow for a little give, however should the platform move too much, the pipes will indeed break, which stresses the importance of blocking the well. Luckily, it was simply a case of deballasting and moving away.
We still had plenty of time, and according to the good folks back on dry land, we were on the very edge of the hurricane. We were told that one oil rig had to physically be moved out of the way, and several have been completely abandoned for the time being.
Looking towards the horizon, there was nothing to see, apart from complete and utter darkness, darkness that on a normal night would be filled with lights of other oil rigs, passing tankers, cruise ships, and on a good day using some binoculars, maybe even the very tip of the LA Coast.
At this point, there is just 16 of us remaining on the rig, which usually would hold 150-170.
At just past 23:15, the final helicopter approached, swinging all over the place in the wind, flying in a circle above the platform.
One final word from dry land, before leaving, I was to check, double check, and triple check that the well was blocked, the pipes were safe and secure, and there was no damage to any of the drilling equipment.
So I did, along with 3 floorhands, we spent 15 minutes triple testing and checking everything.
I was convinced. The rig is safe.
At 23:33 precisely, we departed, back for dry land.
The flight back, was awful, and we were bouncing around like crazy.
Finally, just before 00:30, we landed back in Galveston.
From here, everybody was bussed to KIAH.
It is here, everybody was sorted with transport home, many however, lived quite a distance and had to be put in accommodation around the airport.
For me, it was a long night of organising and talking on the phone, which had to be done ASAP as I was booked onto a flight leaving Houston at 07:10am.
Route: Houston-Intercontinental, Texas to Los Angeles, California
Scheduled Departure: 07:10
Actual Departure: 07:25
Scheduled Arrival: 08:55
Actual Arrival: 08:23
Flight Duration: 3 hours 545 minutes
Aircraft Type/Reg: Boeing 737-900 (N38459)
I wasn’t fully finished until around 5:30am, and it was a rush to get to check-in on time.
Thankfully, my checked bag was well looked after for the few hours I was away, and I managed to get a change of clothes.
I checked my bag in, and headed through security.
Security looked pretty intimidating from the outside, but the queue went down quickly.
Honestly, at this point I had lost all interest and was pretty tired, I didn’t particularly want to leave Houston either.
Before I knew it, boarding was called, I used the Premier Access self-boarding lane, and I was onboard in no time.
The interior of the 737’s look so drab and outdated, especially in First.
However, the legroom was good, and the seat very comfortable. There were power sockets underneath the center console, which was a godsend as my phone died a long long time ago.
Once boarding was complete, I was offered a selection of drinks, however I just took a water, which came in a plastic cup.
We joined the queue for the runway, and soon enough, we were airborne.
I was starving, so made a point of forcing myself to stay awake just to get some food.
Breakfast, consisted of a cheese omelette, tomatoes, 1 sausage and potatoes. It wasn’t bad, wasn’t necessarily good either, almost identical to something you’d pay £7 for on a UK Charter Airline.
I got a Coffee, with about 3837 sugars, before shortly falling asleep. Credit to the crew, they cleared my tray and folded the table away without waking me up.
From here, I have nothing to report, and I was busy catching Z’s.
I was in that deep of a sleep that I didn’t wake up until the thud of the landing gear brought me back to consciousness.
We made a nice approach over the sea, before coming crashing down onto the runway, almost getting whiplash, and then turning off of the runway at Mach 10.
We taxied for longer than it took for us to fly over from Texas, before finally docking at an air bridge.
I don’t particularly have much to say on this flight, the crew were good, however United’s service was average, not particularly great but not the worst at all.
At this point I wasn’t entirely sure why I was sent to LAX, however, after collecting my bag, I was taken to the InterContinental Hotel in Downtown LA.
Once here, I got a coffee, and tuned into the TV.
Honestly, it was disturbing watching it unfold.
At the time of posting this TR, I am currently back in Houston, we are awaiting clearance to go back to the rigs, which should happen at some point this evening or tomorrow.
Thanks for reading, comments welcome as always