The volatility of the aerial ignition chemicals we were handling shouldn’t be underestimated. Consequently, we tried to take what we thought was great care with the details:
- we worked in a separate area on the flight line when we were handling the balls and the chemical;
- anti-freeze and the final product were never carried together until loaded on board;
- the balls were carried on board GODW in metal garbage cans with the lids secured;
- we swept out the aircraft at the end of a run to get rid of any stray potassium that may have gotten caught up in the slipstream.
For the most part, our care and caution was rewarded without incident. However…
On one occasion, Sonny was standing beside GODW while loading a batch of green garbage bags filled with ping-pong balls into metal garbage cans. He picked up a bag and it immediately burst into flames while he was still holding on to it. When Sonny proceeded to depart the area in a hasty feets don’t fail me now manner, the flaming bag was deposited next to a drum of turbo fuel.
I would have been right behind him, but discretion being the better part of valour, instead I reached into GODW, grabbed the fire extinguisher and used it to good purpose. Why the spontaneous combustion occurred was anyone’s guess, but obviously our careful handling of the two chemicals was brought into question. No doubt some anti-freeze had gotten into the mix somewhere towards the end of the line.
The very next day all of the helipads on the base camp flight line were equipped with large extinguishers. No further incidents occurred.