By RON FANFAIR
Just over two decades ago, a young Jamaican Defence Force (JDF) pilot was at the control of a B212 helicopter transporting then United States Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Colin Powell from Up Park Camp – the Army headquarters – when the rotorcraft stalled on its final approach to Norman Manley International Airport.
Fortunately, the helicopter was brought down safely in a sandy area just north of the airport.
Last week, Powell met the pilot – Tim Royes, who is now resident in the Greater Toronto Area – for the first time since that incident and thanked him for helping to land the helicopter safely that day, February 2, 1992.
Royes and another JDF pilot along with a crewman were flying Powell, his wife Alma and then U.S ambassador to Jamaica Glen Holden from Up Park Camp, where they had attended a luncheon with the JDF top brass, to Norman Manley International Airport where American Black Hawk helicopters were waiting to take Powell and the group on a tour to meet U.S. troops stationed on the island.
Powell, whose favourite music is calypso and reggae, also had planned to visit his father’s birthplace that day. Luther Powell, who died in 1978, migrated to the United States in 1920 and his Jamaican-born wife followed three years later.
“We took off on what was a routine flight and as we were making the final turn, I felt like if we were in an updraft,” recalled Royes. “When I checked the instruments, I realized that one of the engines was in an over-speed mode that actually caused the drive shaft to shear and that’s critical.
“I knew we were not going to make it to the airport because we didn’t have any power in the engines, so we basically auto-rotated and landed safely in sand in an area very close to where aircraft fuel is stored at the airport. When we landed, the general grabbed his wife and left the helicopter. The next thing I knew he was standing right next by my window and tugging at my shirt. When he got my attention, he related that this was the second time he had had a rough landing with a helicopter and that we did a hell of a job.”
While on his second deployment to Vietnam, Powell was riding a helicopter in 1969 with a two-star general and some other associates when the blades hit a tree while the pilot was trying to land. The helicopter crashed and Powell broke an ankle.
After a speaking engagement at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre last week, Powell took a photo with Royes and reminisced with him for about six minutes about the events 21 years earlier.
“When I told him I noticed the top rotor blade was spinning and the tail one was not, he asked if that had happened when we landed,” Royes said. “When I informed the general it stopped working when we were in the air, he was shocked because he knew that was severe. We came very close to probably falling upside down in the Kingston harbour.”
Born in Jamaica, Royes attended Wolmer’s briefly before completing high school in Thornhill.
In his eight years as a full-time officer with the JDF, he attended an infantry training course in England and the 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School in Manitoba in 1987. After serving in the JDF Reserve Corps for three years, Royes relocated to the GTA 14 years ago and was the chief pilot with National Helicopters before joining York Regional Police Air Support Unit nine years ago as the AIR2 helicopter chief pilot.
For the past five years, Royes’ flying partner was Const. Michael Pegg who died in hospital last Friday. He broke his leg in requalification training on November 12 and underwent surgery three days later.
“Apart from his wife, Mike spent the most time with me,” said Royes. “We were very close.”