Saturday, January 17, 2009


I took the first half of my hitch off on vacation. I went to a wedding down in southern California, putting twelve hundred miles on the rental car in two days. The wedding is a post in itself, and that'll come later.

I'll soon make my first helicopter flight since hearing of the deaths of two coworkers in an S-76 crash: Tom Ballenger, 63, and Vyarl Martin, 46. Vyarl was an acquaintance. I'd flown with him a couple of times, and we sometimes talked about guitar heroes. I once mentioned to him that I was thinking about taking up the bass guitar, and when I'd see him, the first thing out of his mouth would usually be, "Did you buy that bass yet?" He was an avid guitarist himself. He was a retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander. He smiled a lot.

Tom had been with PHI for well over thirty years. He wasn't a close friend, but he was more than an acquaintance. He could come across as a bit of a grump until you got beyond his shell, when he proved to be an engaging, funny guy. His laugh reminded me a little of a pirate.

They're gone now. I won't be seeing those guys anymore. I won't hear Tom's pirate laugh, and I won't hear Vyarl ask me when the hell I'm going to get off my ass and buy a bass guitar.

I feel off-center, and I have a childlike wish to just get on an airplane and go right back home to my wife and son. But I won't, because I'm a helicopter pilot, and because I've been through this before.

A while back, Bob Barbanes wrote a post titled "Hating the Helicopter Industry," and right now, his words explain the way I feel better than mine.


quid said...

Not something you'll get over right away, Hal. Writing about it... I'm thinking has been cathartic. Looking forward to the wedding story.


Kelly said...

I like the new profile picture.

Pam said...

I like the new photo, too, Hal.

I know that going back must be hard for you after losing these two colleagues. I can only imagine the mixed feelings.

Stay safe and, like Kelly and Quid, I await the wedding story!!

Debby said...

I'd find it hard to climb back in the cockpit again. Be safe.

Oh. And get yourself a guitar.

Mary Paddock said...

While nerves of steel probably doesn't quite describe you--they've got to be made of something strong to go back to this.

Nice pic.


PS. Get a guitar. It will give you something else to do. :)

Bob said...

Sorry about your loss.

Willy said...


Vyarl Martin was one of my best friends. We often played guitar together. Sometimes I would even play bass while he played lead. He used to keep a bass and a guitar at my house so it was handy when he was in the area. We always talked about life's true loves, Kim, his wife, flying, and Music. I wanted to thank you about the kind words.

V, always had that smile. You really should pick up that Bass and play for yourself. I cant pick up my axe any more without almost coming to tears at times, remembering the Jams me and V had. I am slightly jealous of him now, because I know he and Jimi H are going at it on the heavenly stage.

Keep flying, keep playing, keep living, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Joe Daniel
Friend of the V-Miester

Hal Johnson said...

Joe, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I'm very sorry for your loss. I regret that I never had the chance to try Vyarl's patience by accompanying him on the bass. I'm sure, in any case, that he would have never stopped smiling.

Vodka Mom said...

I'm very sorry for the loss- for their families and their friends


Death is quite the bastard. He always shows up uninvited.