One of – if not the single greatest tragedy – of being a Professional helicopter pilot is the staggering mortality rate. Though innovations and technology and advancements in training continue to make the profession safer – the fact remains that if you are flying helicopters long enough; you will lose people you care about.
Today, while at the gym, after my shift at the Life Flight base I was startled when my phone went off. Normally I don’t get cell phone reception in the underground complex, the last thing I was expecting was news that a good friend of mine, and a pioneer in helicopter aviation, had died in a crash.
Many of you have heard of Michael Farikh – the record setting adventurer pilot from Russia, some of you may have even had the privilege of talking with him during his round the world flights, or attendance at helicopter events around the globe. Well today, with a heavy heart, we must say goodbye to a man that was passionate about helicopters and truly enjoyed flying – as it was meant to be enjoyed.
I don’t know how to react to death anymore. Having served in an Infantry unit in the deadliest years of the war in Iraq, I’ve lost people. People that were closer to me than family – that I would have died for over and over again. I bore that weight as a teenager and in my early 20’s. It’s a lot to take in at that age. After the war, at home, members of my unit lost their fights with PTSD – and joined the ranks of “The 22”. Both my grandparents on my fathers side, an aunt as well. And pilots. I’ve lost two close friends in aviation since taking up this career.
You could say I’ve known death. More than my fair share at this point, more than a man as young as me should have to bear in a lifetime I suppose. And despite that, I don’t know how to react. With this news I can take some solace in knowing that Michael was doing what he loved. Flying. You see this same sentence over and over again when you lose a pilot, that he died doing what he loved. With Michael, it’s not just a sentiment – it is fact.
I first met Michael on facebook in the Helicopter pilots group, back in 2013, right before he began his North Pole attempt in an R66 and R44, and then his round-the-world attempt in the Robinson R66. He was eager to promote the round-the-world adventure, and their website as well as the videos and photos they were sharing and I jumped right on board with him and the crew and began promoting the expedition as best I could. I didn’t realize how much that meant to Michael until the following year at Heli-Expo 2014 in California.
Michael and I had stayed in touch regularly before, during and after the expedition was complete. I was excited to learn that he was making the trip to California to Heli-Expo and I’d finally get to meet the man in person. His round-the-world trip was inspiring, not only to me but, to pilots around the world. There’s something truly adventurous about flying around the world – something even more spectacular about tackling the feat in a small, relatively new, just certified in Russia, helicopter.
After narrowly missing each other for a day and a half at expo due to my media engagements and work with HeliOps Magazine I finally got Michael on the phone and met up with him at the Bell booth, where the Russian contingent were checking out the just announce Bell 505 JRX. When I arrived Michael had gifts, gifts that I was certainly not expecting. Most notably, in addition to the thumb drive of pictures and videos and the prints of some of their best shots, the expedition had laser engraved a limited amount of bluetooth speakers specifically for the team members with the expedition logo and a map with the route – and Michael had one for me. He told me how much traffic was driven to the site and how much exposure they got, and how the a lot of the metrics pointed back to the promoting that I had done on the social media side of things. It’s kind of a niche of mine.
I was blown away. I had done all of that because I truly believed in the expedition and I wanted to see it succeed as much as they did. It was a truly great adventure and one I envy. Being able to say I was even remotely associated with one of the pilots felt like being a part of history. Sure, the round-the-world flight isn’t a new thing, and commercial jets do it daily anymore, but it’s more than just doing the flight, it’s how you do it. And it had never been done in a helicopter that small.
During our meeting Michael was as friendly in person as he was in the pilot group and chats online – he offered up a steak dinner at the house the Russians had rented for expo, was full of energy and excitement, and it was hard not to just get caught up in and begin to share his passion for flying. So many pilot lose that joy and this becomes “just a job”, however Michael was not one of those pilots. Man, he loved flying. Sadly, that was the first and last time that Michael and I met in person. However we kept our friendship going online through social media, barely missing each other in Florida and Louisville during Expo’s and just last week we had begun discussing my taking a trip to Moscow to visit in July – and had begun to lay plans for a week or two up there. I was as excited as could be knowing that I’d get to hang out with a dear friend of mine again, and get to see Moscow through the eyes of Michael Farikh – a fellow Roaming Pilot.
If you can, follow Michael’s example, and remain excited and passionate about flying as much as he was. Live life with passion, and reach beyond the status-quo. Adventure. Dare. Go beyond the comfort zone.
God speed Michael. And Rest in Peace my dear friend.
Michaels YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJsk6FceZDiGEzUK-ePu-pw
A video Michael put up on the Round-the-World Expedition: https://youtu.be/8qJpdymqrR0
Perhaps it is time I began planning a round-the-world flight.