The Helicopter Crash and Insight Stories

I've spent a large part of my career working in the oil and gas and mining industries where safety is always a primary concern. A significant issue in safety leadership is getting people to appreciate the importance of preparing for rare but extremely dangerous events. The following anecdote is a perfect example of the importance of preparation and training and is applicable to many situations.

As a young field engineer in March 1988, I was transferred at short notice from China to Australia. I had been expecting to take a helicopter from Tanggu base to my oil rig in Bohai Bay, Northern China but in a rapid turn of events, found myself heading for a rig in the Timor Sea off Darwin as a result of a shortage of Australian engineers.

The company engineer that met me at Darwin airport was sporting two spectacular black eyes and as we drove to the Darwin helicopter terminal, clearly still in shock, he related his story.

"I was the last one out of a helicopter that ditched into the Timor Sea and I was kicked in the face while trying to get out."

"We were a 100 miles out over the sea, cruising at about 5000 feet, when the engine exploded and we started falling from the sky. Incredibly, there were two helicopter safety experts on board and as we auto-gyrated down to the ocean they gave us a helicopter ditching training lesson!"

"They told us to expect the helicopter to land hard and then tip upside down and fill with water. They said they would open the door and we would need to swim down to get out and they also told us to remove our headsets and tie up the cables before impact because in the last accident they investigated, people had become tangled in the headset cables and drowned."

"Everything happened exactly as described, I was the last one out and got too close to the person in front of me, so was kicked in the face. We inflated two life rafts but both had holes them. So we were in our life jackets swimming in shark infested waters holding onto a deflated life raft."

"Fortunately, there was a US/Australian joint military exercise going on and a rescue helicopter winched us all out of the sea about an hour later."

The obvious safety lesson and insight from this story is that you may not be so fortunate!

Wouldn't it be better to be prepared rather than hope there is an expert there to teach you in your critical moment?


In the last few years, I've been teaching sales people how to collect and deliver stories to help them connect with and influence their customers. I counsel my students to always tell true stories (See "

The Ponytail and why your Business Stories should be True"

) and that got me thinking about my own favourite stories. So I resolved to check the veracity of the ones that did not happen to me directly.

I made the effort to track down the engineer that met me at Darwin airport. I couldn't remember his name but I did remember another engineer who was in Darwin at the time and through the wonders of LinkedIn and Facebook tracked down John Patel. John located the

air safety accident investigation report

and we compared our memories of  an event that he had tried to forget.

A few months later John attended one of our public story telling workshops and we got to tell the story again.

The Author (Left) with John Patel at a Selling with Stories workshop in Sydney this year.




Source: Mike Adams personal experience

Story Type: Insight


For Story Students:

The Setting: 1988, Darwin Australia

The Complications: Helicopter ditching

The Turning Point: Safety experts on-board the chopper!

The Resolution: Safe ditching in the Timor Sea

The Point of the Story: You  may not be so lucky! Be prepared instead.



Short notice transfer.

I got the phone call to transfer to Australia at 1 am in the morning. At 11 pm

on the same day

, I was on an oil rig 200 km out into the Timor Sea. That is a short notice international transfer.

Title photo credit:

How to Re-Purpose a Story

Do you know what it feels like to really help someone but they don't realise you helped?

In our business story workshops, we ask participants to

tell a story about when you helped,

 this is a preparatory exercise to help them construct business success stories (not to be confused with marketing case studies).

Most people tell business stories in this exercise but occasionally there is a memorable personal story:

Nick, a successful marketing manager, told about taking his then three year-old daughter to the beach to teach her to swim in 2011. Nick took her into waist deep murky water and kept her close and firmly in sight as she tried to swim.

Nick felt a brush against his leg and at first thought it was his daughter touching him, but realising that it couldn't have been her, reached down into the water and pulled up a young boy who was drowning on the sandy bottom.

The boy spluttered and recovered as Nick carried him to the beach.

When they reached the beach, the boy's mother came up and exclaimed "oh! There you are!". She took the boy by the hand and led him away before Nick could explain what had happened.

I recently told this story in a discussion with an IT company that was struggling with customer service. Even though the story is not about customer service, the emotions it evokes are universal which makes it a generally useful story if told in the right context,

If you get in the habit of collecting your stories you'll be amazed at how versatile they can be.




Source: Nick Horton personal experience

Story Type:


For Story Students:

The Setting: 2011 beach in NSW

The Complications: Nick discovered a drowning child

The Turning Point: Nick brought the child to the shore but the mother didn't notice

The Resolution: The story is unresolved! which is exactly the feeling it induces

The Point of the Story: Good stories can re-purposed

Martin Place Lindt Cafe Siege - Access to Data

On 15th December 2014 a lone gunman held hostage ten customers and eight employees of a the Lindt cafe in Sydney's Martin Place.

The police urgently needed to understand the building layout in order to resolve an extremely dangerous hostage situation. The Police saw the First5Minutes evacuation sign in the building side entrance and called the property owner to get the building plans - but the property owner didn't know how to access the plans

The police noticed that the evacuation signs were created by First5Minutes. They called First5Minutes and were able to get copies of the building floor plans(with the building owner's consent) in a matter of minutes from First5minute's online system. The property owners were not able to supply floor plans in this time frame. Provision of floor plans was vital to the police handling of the siege.

When the hostage-taker opened fire on the hostages, the police used their knowledge of the building layout to storm the cafe and release the remaining hostages.


Company: First5Minutes

Source: As researched by Mike Adams


Story Type: Success


For Story Students

The Setting: On 15th December 2014 a lone gunman held hostage ten customers and eight employees of a the Lindt cafe in Sydney's Martin Place

The Complications: The police urgently needed to understand the building layout in order to resolve an extremely dangerous hostage situation. The Police saw the F5M evacuation sign in the building side entrance and called the property owner to get the building plans - but the property owner didn't know how to access the plans

Meeting the guide:   The Police called First5Minutes

The Plan: Provide instant access to the data they needed to solve a critical public safety issue

Avoid Failure: Police tried to wait out the hostage-taker but he started shooting

Achieve (partial) Success: The police used the First5minutes plans to storm the cafe and free the remaining hostages.

The Point of the Story: The Police had instant access to the data they needed to solve a critical public safety issue

How to use this story: When talking about the importance of proper document management and access to important documents.


9/11 Emergency Evacuation

The Morgan-Stanley Company occupied 22 floors up to level 72 in Tower 1 of the World Trade Centre in 2001; here is their survival story.

Rick Rescorla may be the greatest American hero you’ve never heard of. A decorated Vietnam veteran of British birth, Rescorla was the head of security for Morgan Stanley’s World Trade Center offices in New York City. With a workforce of nearly 3,000 people, the bank was the towers’ largest tenant.

Although Rescorla’s heroics hold a special place in the hearts of Morgan Stanley employees, his deep understanding of crises made him a pain in the neck to some…

Rescorla was an expert disaster planner. He worried that the World Trade Center represented a major terrorist target, so he put Morgan Stanley employees through frequent, random evacuation drills.

When Rescorla’s evacuation drill orders came, everything stopped. Every last person in the company knew the evacuation routes, time limits, and contingency plans - would practice them. Although Morgan Stanley traded hundreds of millions of dollars a day through its World Trade Center offices, every employee had to participate in Rescorla’s evacuation drills.

Rescorla appointed team leaders and fire marshals for every floor. They underwent extra training. Their jobs were to make sure the different floors would follow his comprehensive 22-floor evacuation plan. Every visitor to Morgan Stanley would receive a proper safety briefing before conducting any business in the offices. Some folks found Rescorla’s drills annoying - some wanted to skip the interruptions and keep working.

The first plane hit Tower 1 at 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001. The Morgan Stanley offices were in Tower 2. Office workers felt the explosion and saw the damage; they could see people breaking out of windows and crawling out to escape the heat and flames. Some were jumping.

Shortly after impact, the Port Authority came across the buildings’ intercom system - the order was for everyone, in both towers, to stay put.

Rescorla was already out taking action  right according to plan. He ordered his security staff, floor leaders, and fire marshals to evacuate immediately. He picked up his walkie-talkie and bullhorn and commanded the operation, floor by floor. The Morgan Stanley evacuation plan went into full effect, and the people responded the moment the order came down. They had been drilled in exactly what to do.

Seventeen minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., the second plane hit Tower 2: the jolt knocked people off their feet, desks and file cabinets overturned, papers littered the floors, the power went out. Many sustained injuries in the stairwells and on the Morgan Stanley floors. The stress on everyone jumped from high to extreme. But the evacuation continued according to plan.

Rescorla knew everyone in the building was in serious trouble. His people were performing well, but he needed to maintain their focus. He didn’t want anyone freezing - so he picked up his bullhorn and began singing songs from his youth. They were the same songs he’d sung to his men back in Vietnam. They helped people keep fear at bay and focus on the task at hand. The songs worked just as well in the World Trade Center stairwells as they did during the war.

In between songs, Rescorla paused to call his wife. “Stop crying,” he told her, “I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.”

By around 9:45, the evacuation of Morgan Stanley’s offices was nearly complete. But at the bottom, Rescorla turned around and started heading back up. A handful of people were unaccounted for - including members of his security staff.

Then, there were the firemen, police, and people from every other office in the building. Everyone knew Rescorla wouldn’t come out until every last person had been rescued.

Rick Rescorla, American hero, was last seen in the 10th floor stairwell, heading higher. Not long after that, at 9:59 a.m., Tower 2 collapsed.

Thirteen Morgan Stanley employees died on 9/11. This includes Rescorla and four of his security team. But the remaining 2,687 employees, plus 250 office visitors, survived. [**Note the time lapse to building collapse was 14 minutes**]

They survived in large part thanks to Rescorla and his knowledge of something called “negative panic.”

They survived because Rick Rescorla had a plan.

[From Dr David Elfrig’s

Doctor’s Protocal and Field Manual

, Agora Publishing, Investment Advisory]



: Morgan Stanley


: Ralph Ritchie, 2013



Story Type

: Insight, Values


For Story Students:

The Setting

: Sept 2011, World Trade Centre

The Complications

: Corporate staff do not appreciate safety training or fire drills

The Turning Point

: Rescoria's planning and practice regime was critically needed when the twin towers were struck by terrorist controlled planes on 9th September 2011

The Resolution

: Rescoria's training saved 2687 employees out of a total staff of 2700 in the tower that day.

The Point of the Story

: Rescoria's training saved 2687 employees out of a total staff of 2700 in the tower that day. The story demonstrates the values of protection and safety

How to use this story

: Any situation where customers need to be convinced about the importance of emergency response preparedness