Close Call

This is the first time I have shared this story.

My career started in 1951 in the RCAF. I was transferred in 1952 to Number 1 Fighter Wing (FW) in North Luffenham, England. The Sabre jets were Canada’s support to NATO and used for training pilots for Korea. I worked on jet engine maintenance in the engine bay and on completion of inspections, I would take the engines to the run-up shed about 500 yards from the hangars. The engines were well secured for run-up and further checked for issues such as fluid leaks and running limitations.

Normally there was a person in the shed who supervised. He ran the engine from a control room where he could see all activity through a window. One airman inspected the engine. He would run it at various speeds while I was doing the external inspection. As I worked my way around to the front, he would slow the engine down.

On this particular day, as I walked around to the front of the engine, he did not slow it down. He had left his position and was not watching me. I was grabbed by the suction of the engine. It pulled me into the front of the engine, where there was a small screen. I was trying to push myself off with my left hand, and at the same time, trying to reach around with my right hand to grab the throttle to cut off the engine. On my second try, I got a hold of it and managed to get the engine to go down but then it went right back up again, as the throttle was secured by the operator. Finally the operator noticed me, ran over and turned the engine down to idle. When all the excitement was over I went to the hospital with marks of the screen cut into the palm of my hand.

What I hadn’t noticed at the time was that a piece of fabric and metal button from the left cuff of my coveralls had been torn off. If that had gone through the engine, it would have caused a compressor stall and the compressor blades would have gone out the front. I would have been killed instantly.

I have never spoken about this to anyone, not even my family, in the 65 years since it happened. I’ve had bad dreams about it frequently, and the dream always ends with an explosion and sudden anxiety, which awaken me.

Ron Beirnes, RCAF(Ret’d)

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