There’s a reason why you should ask for help in business and to demonstrate the point, let me revisit a story of my stupidity from a few years back.
There’s a saying that goes “there are old pilots and bold pilots. But there are no old, bold pilots” which makes sense when you read my story. But it’s a useful tale of how asking for help gives you exactly what you need – and there are always people there willing to listen and help.
The story of my flight
Come back with me to May 1979. It’s a beautiful day. And I’m flying back from Palmerston North to Hamilton. Now, when I say I’m flying, I’m actually the pilot of the aeroplane. I’m the captain.
I’m in a little Cherokee 180, 4 seater, callsign Echo November Victor. (ENV) And it’s about a three-hour flight. And it’s a really, really nice day. And I’m flying VFR. That means visual flight rules. Which means if I’m below 3,000 feet, then I can pretty well fly where I like.
Now we’ve got cloud cover at about 4,000 feet. So I’m just cruising along at 120knots at about 2,000 feet at this stage, just above the hills, just above the mountains. I’m looking down out the window, and I’m just seeing the beautiful, beautiful sparkly waters as I pass over the lovely rivers and streams that run abundantly through the hills. I’m just looking at the green green bush, the tall rugged trees the delicate ferns and the ragged hillsides and I’m thinking, it’s really nice to be up here and cruising along to Hamilton.
I’m actually flying through some of the valleys as well, as I continue my VFR flight. And it’s just lovely. Seeing the tops of the mountains sometimes above me, and the tops of the hills.
Sometimes seeing huts where people can stay as I blast across the top of a ridge line and down into the next valley.
And I get into a really, really big valley. Up ahead of me, I can see the entrance through to the next valley. But as I’m heading towards the valley entrance, the cloud cover starts coming down – really quickly. There is obviously a weather pattern up ahead, one that I am unaware of. As I’m heading towards the next valley, toward the weather pattern, I think, oh, it’s all right, I’ll just turn around and go back the way I have come. I do what we term as a half wing over where I point the nose up, which reduces airspeed, kick in the left rudder, turn the aileron, and go back the other way.
But as I go back the other way, I start to panic because I see that the cloud has descended down and boxed me in. It’s come down behind me as well. So I’m actually boxed into this valley, and there’s nowhere to land because the terrain is too rugged. I have hills on either side of me.
I start to panic because my flying area is getting smaller and smaller as the cloud descends further and boxes me in more. And as I’m panicking, I start to sweat because I don’t know what to do because I don’t have an instrument rating. Although, I have done five hours of instrument flying. I’ve got an idea of what I need to do, but I’m nowhere near competent.
And then I made a decision that I needed to do. I was going to have to punch up through the clouds. I knew where the mountains were, and I knew that I had to get way above those mountains, but I didn’t know at what height the cloud cover topped out at. So I punched up into the clouds and I started to climb. I was surrounded by this cloud and I had no reference points. I was flying blind. My anxiety ratcheted up another 3 notches. I was in alien territory here.
I was panicking and I immediately got on the radio. The little switch for the radio is on the yoke stick of the control column of the aeroplane. So I push this down with my thumb and click the radio and I call Auckland Information.
Now, Auckland Information is the place all aeroplanes call into with their progress as they fly up and down the North Island of New Zealand. They have the communication coverage for the whole of the area I’m flying in. And I talk with them before I actually go to my final destination, which is Hamilton, where I then change frequency to Hamilton Tower. I am meant to change frequencies, about 25 miles out from Hamilton airport.
I call Auckland Information, “Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! This is Eco November Victor. I’m in the crap. I need help.”
Immediately, this strong, quiet voice came back. It sounded like a night-time radio DJ’s voice. Smooth and reassuring. “Eco November Victor, this is Auckland Information. Please state your emergency?”
I clicked again, “Auckland Information, this is Eco November Victor. I’m in a valley and I’m surrounded by cloud. I can’t get out. I’ve had to punch up through the clouds because I’ve got no way out. And I don’t want to crash into a mountain. I haven’t got an instrument rating. I’m punching up through the clouds. I’m climbing at this stage. I’m on a heading of 180 degrees. I need your help.”
Really, I need your help.”
Auckland Information came back really quickly in a really commanding, soothing, authoritative tone. “Eco November Victor, this is Steve here. Please, don’t panic. I’m going to look after you. You’re going to come out of this all right so long as you follow my instructions. Now, I don’t want you to talk to me anymore. If you can understand what I’m saying, just click once on your mic button, or click twice on your mic button, if you don’t understand.”
I clicked once.
“Roger, Eco November Victor. This is Steve. You’ve done the right thing. Now I need you to just look at 4 instruments for me.
I need you to look at your ‘turn and bank indicator’ to make sure that your wings are level, because if you’re in the cloud, you will have a tendency to fall one way or the other.
I need you to look at your ‘altimeter’ to ensure that you’re actually climbing.
And really importantly, I need to look at your ‘air speed indicator’, to make sure you don’t go below 70 knots. And also, your ‘artificial horizon’ to show that you’re climbing, but also, to show that your wings are level as well, the same as your turn and bank indicator. Those are the only four instruments that I need you to look at. Does that make sense?”
“I’m going to keep talking with you, Eco November Victor. I’m going to clear all the other aeroplanes off this frequency so it’s only you and I. I’m going to get you out of this, and bring you home.”
“By the way, Eco November Victor, what’s your name?”
“My name’s Pete.”
“Roger, Pete. Again, this is Steve. What I want you to do, tell me how much fuel you have? Look down at your fuel gauge. Do you have enough fuel? If you have enough just give me one click.”
I looked down at my fuel gauges. I’ve got a left and a right tank and I’m currently on the left tank and I see that I’ve got two hours of fuel at this stage. So I let Steve know. “Steve, I have two hours of fuel on my left tank and about two hours on my right tank. I’m okay at this stage.”
“Well done Pete, that’s good. We don’t need to worry about your fuel state. No need to talk with me anymore, just go back to clicking your mic if you understand. Two clicks if you don’t. Steve’s voice was smooth and melodic, like the late-night DJ. He instilled confidence in me.
“Now, Pete are you looking at your altimeter? Are you looking at your speed? Are you looking at your turn and bank indicator? Are you checking your artificial horizon?”
“Good. Just keep looking at those and making sure they are all in balance and where they should be. You’re doing great and you’re going to be all right. I’m going to bring you home. And I’m telling you now, you’ll top out above the clouds at about 8,000 feet. By about 5,000 feet, you’ll come up on my radar and I’ll be able to see you. I’m going to divert a Friendship, an Air New Zealand Friendship to bring you through to Hamilton once you come out above the clouds. Does that make sense?”
An Air New Zealand Fokker Friendship is a twin-engined commercial aeroplane that carries about 32 passengers with a crew of three.
At this stage, the rivers of sweat are just running down my shirt. They’re just running down my front like Niagara Falls in full flood. And my eyes are darting back and forth between the air speed indicator, the turn and bank indicator, the artificial horizon and my altimeter. The altimeter is winding up, oh so slowly.
I look outside, which is a silly thing to do because there’s nothing to see. And all of a sudden, I could see my turn and bank indicator starting to fall to the left, but it didn’t feel as though the plane was falling to the left. My brain didn’t register the left drift and fall, because it had no reference points to adjust to. This didn’t seem right. Maybe my instruments were faulty. I noticed a faint increase in rpms and my air speed started to creep up. This certainly doesn’t seem right if I think I am flying straight.
All of a sudden Steve came back on the radio and said, “How are you going, Pete? Are you looking at your instruments? Trust your instruments. If they’re giving a reading that doesn’t compute with your brain, trust your instruments.
Click, click. Two clicks I was panicking even more, as this didn’t seem right.
Steve came back on the radio quickly with his lovely smooth voice. “Pete are your instruments telling you something that doesn’t make sense to you?”
“Trust your instruments, Pete. Keep everything level except for your artificial horizon. Keep your speed at 70 knots.”
I turned my ailerons. It felt as though I was falling to the right now, but the turn and bank indicator and artificial horizon levelled out. It levelled the wings out. The ‘turn and bank indicator’ was level again. The artificial horizon showed me my wings were level and I was still climbing. My altimeter said the same. I thought, oh, it just doesn’t seem right. The engine rpm’s fell back to their normal sound. My airspeed crept back down to 70 knots like a thief in the night.
“Pete, trust your instruments, trust your instruments,” enthused Steve.
I did. It seemed like an eternity, but I kept climbing up through 2,000 feet, up through 2,500 feet, up through 3,000 feet. Oh boy. Oh boy. It’s like hours and hours. I got to 3,500 feet, 4,000 feet. My wings were level. My airspeed was at 70 knots. My fuel state was OK.
I could hear Steve on the radio talking to the Air New Zealand Friendship captain, who he had diverted. This is a commercial plane with passengers on board and they are diverting to come and help me get out of the mess that I’ve put myself in. Wow I thought, how wonderful is that?
I climbed through 5,000 feet. At 5,000 feet, Steve radioed to me again, and said, “Pete, we can see you on radar now. You’re going really well. You’re going to come out of this. You’re coming home. You’re above any mountains or hills. You’re going to be okay. Give me a click if you understand.”
And then up through 6,000 feet. I’m still watching my instruments like a hawk. Trusting them. Not trusting myself. It’s hard. I’m still nervous. I’m anxious. I can’t believe I have any sweat left in my body, but there’s still a river running from my armpits.
My instruments are stable. They’re telling me it’s all OK. I trust them. They’re working as they should. I’m maintaining 70 knots, still climbing – through 7,000 feet. And at about 7,500 feet, I could see a faint light above me. Is this the end of the clouds? Am I coming out into open sky? I hope so. I think I am coming out of the clouds. It’s getting lighter and lighter above me. And sure enough, just before 8000 feet, I pop through the clouds into the most beautiful blue sky I have ever seen. I see the Air New Zealand Friendship about 3 miles off to my left. He’s flying racetrack patterns. I’m flying at 70 knots, he’s cruising at 250 knots. He’s too fast for me. He has to fly a racetrack pattern to keep me in sight.
The Air New Zealand captain radios Auckland Information to say that he could see me. “Auckland Information, this is Air New Zealand 2717. I have the Cherokee in sight. I have Pete in sight. He’s just popped out of the clouds. He’s looking good. We will take them through to Hamilton and you’ll be able to guide him down.”
I heard Steve come back, “Roger, Air New Zealand 2717. Thank you very much for that. Pete, I want you to turn onto a heading of 020 degrees please, and then just tag along with the Air New Zealand Friendship. He will be going faster than you, but I want you to level out now. Pick up your airspeed to 120 knots and the Air New Zealand captain will take you through to Hamilton. Now don’t go onto Hamilton Tower frequency at this stage. I just want you to stick with me. All right? Don’t change any of your radio frequencies. I want you to do as little work as possible because you’re doing a really, really good job. I just want you to fly the plane. Do you understand?”
Oh my goodness. It’s so good to be out here in the blue sky. So good to be out here. Away from those clouds.
About 20 minutes later, I came through to Hamilton. Steve had been talking with me all the way. The Air New Zealand captain said I was looking good. He came close enough at one stage that he was able to wave at me. I waved back.
I saw the passengers staring out at me through their windows. No doubt they were wondering who I was.
Steve spoke to me again in that calm soothing voice he had. I was waiting for him to break into song. “Pete, Steve here. You should see a gap in the clouds where you’ll be able to fly down towards Hamilton Airport. I have got the Hamilton Tower frequency all arranged. All other aircraft are off the frequency, so it’s just you and I. Don’t worry about changing frequencies. Are you good for a landing?”
“Roger, Pete. Okay. Ensure that your carb heat is turned on. Make sure your mixture is rich. Check your brakes are off, and get ready to put your flaps down. Make sure that you’re actually pulling your throttle back to 1500 rpm as you come in for the landing. I’m going to divert the Friendship away now, he’s going to carry on to Auckland. Steve was doing all my pre-landing checks for me. Taking all the pressure so I had none.
I lined up for runway 36. All runways are aligned with points of the compass, so I was coming in to land on the northerly heading. I pulled my rpms back as Steve instructed, and lowered 20 degrees of flap. The little Cherokee sat up in the air with the extra lift generate by the flaps. I was heading for terra firma. The runway raced up to meet me, like a greyhound racing dog. The main undercarriage hit the tarmac. I bounced. And bounced again! And then once more.
That was one of the worst landings I’d ever done in my life. In fact, I landed seven times!!!!! I bounced along the runway making an absolute hash of landing that poor little aeroplane. It was the worst landing of my life – even worse than when I was a student pilot. I was just glad to be on the ground.
Hamilton Tower came on the radio. “Eco November Victor, this is Hamilton Tower. Welcome home. Well done. Can you come and see me once you’ve parked the aeroplane please?”
Have you ever been in a position where you realized you were going to get an absolute bollocking for a stuff-up you made?
That’s how I felt.
I parked the plane, and sheepishly went up to the control tower. There was Dave. He was on the phone to Steve at Auckland information. Dave is about six foot, really solid, big, bulky build. A smile as wide as the Grand Canyon and a smooth silky night-time DJ voice just like Steve. It must be a pre-requisite to have a voce like that to be an Air Traffic Controller! He had long hair that sat on his shoulders, not the stereotypical air traffic controller that you see on the movies, but he turned around and he put his hand out to shake my hand. “Well done, Pete. Well done.” “Dave, what do you mean? I nearly killed myself up there through my own stupidity.”
“You’re right, Pete. You nearly did. But you didn’t. And the main thing is that you listened to Steve and you took instructions. By the way, I have Steve on the phone here, he wants to congratulate you too! And, by listening to those instructions, that’s how you’re safe here now. Not the best of landings I’ve ever seen, but under the circumstances, it was a landing. You’re safe and the aeroplane is safe. Well done. It’s good to have you back on the ground here. I’m looking forward to seeing you, when you next go flying again.”
“Oh, Dave, I don’t think that’s going to be today. I think I need to go with an instructor again, just for a little while. What do you think…?”
Come with me now to September 2019. I remembered what had happened to me all those years ago during that flight back from Palmerston North, in 1979 because at that stage in 2019 I was going through a tough time in business. It was like being boxed in by cloud all over again.
Asking for help… again
I had been in a coaching franchise since 2014, and it was tough. Janelle and I went down the Franchise route as we had
- no family,
- no networks or
- friends here in England.
It seemed the logical thing to do.
We had coached and mentored many clients to success in NZ and had the testimonials to prove it. It was a natural progression
I invest time,
I invest money,
and we started to work with that particular franchise.
But some Business owners were put off by the brand we were under. We were flummoxed. We hadn’t expected that.
It was Janelle and I that were the coaches and mentors not the brand.
People had had, bad experiences with other coaches using the brand.
After 4 years I was quickly running out of money. I was struggling to make this work and I came to the realisation that something had to change.
I was tired. I was stressed. I was Depressed. I had even got to the stage of having suicidal thoughts. I was in a pretty dark place. I felt very alone. I felt alienated. I was living day to day, – hour to hour.
It was affecting my relationship with my wife Janelle. She was anxious for me.
She sought help for me from the mental health team, who came urgently.
Something had to change.
And would you agree that there’s only so much you can do without the help of others, or making a change to your circumstances when they’re that dire?”
I made the changes by getting out of that Franchise and starting our own company again. It was a life-changing moment.
I realized that if I could get through that tough time with my flying and doing all the right things by making the right choices and by taking the right advice, then I’d be able to get through this tough time too.
And the fact is that’s exactly what happened. I reached out for help and found someone who could give me the help I needed. And it’s good to remember in anything we do, we need to accept other people’s offer of help. Helping and guiding us. People who have got more experience than us. People who have been there and probably done what we’re trying to do. They know what to expect when it gets difficult.
Now, realizing what had happened back in 1979 and how grateful I was for all those people helping me and an Air New Zealand commercial flight, being diverted to help me (and I didn’t have to compensate them at all), just made me realize that there are people that want to help in your business too. There are people that want to help you with whatever you’re doing. And the lesson I took from that day is:
Reach out for help.
Don’t be silly. The most stupid thing you can do is not ask for help. If I hadn’t asked for help, I could have parked myself really badly on one of those ridges or in one of the valleys as I was flying through, back to Hamilton. But because I reached out for help back in 1979, and reached out for help in 2019, means that in 2021, I’m here today telling my story.
Need help with your business but don’t know who to ask? Here are two options: