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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Helicopter Pilot Whose Specialty Was Flying Over Volcanoes!

I said, “Gee, that isn’t much of a lava flow.” To which the helicopter pilot replied, “Oh, you want a closer view, let’s hang sideways!” And he proceeded to sling the helicopter into a sideways tilt, swooping down over the glowing red eye of magma, which was suddenly much, much larger and stinkier. The British passenger in the back, screamed. I glanced back and he was clinging in a rictus of fear to the top far side of the passenger compartment. I felt sorry for him, I really did, but I had no control over the pilot, or my own fate at the moment, so I ignored my own fear, hung down in my seatbelts over the glowing red eye of magma flowing under the dark crust of the volcano vent, and concentrated on taking as many pictures as possible! I was using one of the first digital cameras on the market; big and clunky, no image display (just shoot-and-hope-for-the-best), with a looong wait while the camera prepares to let you take the next photograph. In such serious excitement I kept fuddling the color settings on my camera, turning it to black and white. No regrets though, I flew low over a volcano and lived. I have the memories. Superb.

I asked the pilot how he happened to be piloting a helicopter over volcanoes for a living. He thought for a moment, then somberly said with a twinkle in his eye, “Just crazy I guess.” Our two-hour tour included flights over jungle waterfalls, but he said his specialty was volcanoes. He looked wild and crazy, but appearances can be deceiving. I most enjoyed the coastline views that he showed us, where hot lava spews from the side of the Island of Hawaii into the cool Pacific ocean depths, sending steaming clouds billowing up to the heavens. This is where the Fire Goddess Tūtū Pele battles her sister, the Sea Goddess Tūtū Namakaokahai. We landed the helicopter back at home base under a rainbow.

The pilot had put me in the helicopter co-pilot seat, saying that my weight balanced his better than the other passengers, who were two large men of indeterminate age, but I thought he wanted the scared, antsy British guy out of the way, in the back. I had met both of the other passengers while we were waiting for our tour, the third passenger never did say where he was from, maybe he did not speak English, or was scared silent. By then I myself had been scared of volcanoes for several days, so exhaustion had taken the edge off.

At the end of the tour, I sensed some malignance on the part of the British man, so I hustled off to my car to avoid being involved in whatever complaint he might have. He ran after me. His complaint was not with the pilot but with me, “You Americans are all the same, you make everything dangerous!” Instead of ignoring him and getting into my car as would have been prudent, I stopped to retort, “You, and British people like you, are why we did the revolution for independence, to be free of you.” Then, I got in my car and drove off. It was faulty logic but I had the satisfaction of having spoken up for myself. I was annoyed that he had distracted me from talking to the pilot, whom I had wanted to know better. I imagine that helicopter pilot could tell a story.

Later that day I drove through Kamaoa Wind Farm, Ka Lae, Hawaii, United States of America. Very windy, I had to steady the camera on the hood of the car to get a photograph.

Caption: Helicopter Pilot Whose Specialty Was Flying Over Volcanoes!

Note: Our helicopter landed under a rainbow.

—photographs by Annmarie Throckmorton, Hawaii 1998.

Caption: This Is My Happy-Scared Ready-To-Go Face.

—Annmarie Throckmorton Hawaii 1998.jpg

Caption: Flying Sideways Over Glowing Eye Of Tūtū Pele.

—photograph by Annmarie Throckmorton, Hawaii 1998.

Caption: Tūtū Pele Steams Over Tūtū Namakaokahai.

—photograph by Annmarie Throckmorton, Hawaii 1998.

Caption: Kamaoa Wind Farm turbines

run at one of the highest velocities in the world.

—photographs by Annmarie Throckmorton, South Point, Hawaii 1998.

Ka Lae, also known as South Point,

is the southernmost point of the Big Island of Hawaii and of the 50 United States.

It is a National Historic Landmark District.

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