ORM: don't leave lunch without it.
This story involves a group of five squadron maintainers, including the three of us, who took a weekend to enjoy the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. It isn't a story of alcohol abuse and shenanigans. Rather, it's a story of the very real risks you face in an outdoor sport, especially when you exceed your individual skill level, without applying the principles of operational risk management.
We departed NAS Fallon at 0500 and headed to the mountains, arriving at the ski resort late in the morning. We then went skiing and snowboarding on the various mountain trails. After a mid-day break for lunch and some rest, we hit the slopes for more fun.
An AME1 who had been snowboarding all morning but had decided to switch to skiing went to his truck, retrieved his skis, and joined the rest of us. Our adventurous team had found a little trick park where other skiers were doing a variety of jumps on both skis and snowboards. We decided to warm up on smaller jumps until we were comfortable, then it was on to bigger jumps-correction, make that the biggest jumps. We were going for distance here, not form.
The first four of us who tried the jump didn't have enough speed to clear the target. Our last intrepid distance jumper was the AME1 who had been snowboarding all morning. He had enough speed to clear the landing area, but, when he landed, his skis dug into the hillside and flung him out of his bindings.
The AME1 remained motionless for a few minutes, while we went to his side. He believed he had been knocked unconscious for a short period but was awake by the time we arrived. After getting up and taking stock of his parts, the AME1 decided to stop for the day and ski down to the lodge. We all figured we had had enough at this point, too, and joined him. We then headed back to NAS Fallon.
The AME1 still was experiencing pain in his head and neck when we arrived and, by the next morning, couldn't even move his neck. He didn't just have a stiff neck--it was immobile. Only then did he realize his injuries were serious. He called the squadron duty office and reported to branch medical. X-rays revealed the extent of his injuries--two crushed vertebrae; in other words, he had a broken neck.
The AME1 had to have surgery in Reno, Nev., followed by traction, a neck brace, and a transfer from the command because of his non-deployable status.
Alcohol wasn't a factor--none of us had been drinking. The problem was a breakdown in ORM. Originally, our group did a good job of using this process: We spent the morning skiing and snowboarding at our skill level, and we took a break when we got tired.
While jumping wasn't a "bad" idea--it's certainly a fun part of snow sports--we strayed off course by purposely working ourselves up to bigger jumps. We then compounded that problem by skipping the "bigger" jumps in favor of the "biggest" ones. That decision was the straw that broke the AME1's neck. Not seeking medical attention right away, even though the victim believed he was knocked unconscious, also was dumb.
The squadron lost a lot of man-hours and a highly qualified maintainer--all because, after lunch, ORM stayed in the lodge.
All three authors were assigned to VAQ-139 at the time they wrote this story.
* Ski Safety, http://sportsknee.com/sports.htm
* ORM Resources, http://safetycenter.navy.mil/ orm/resources.htm
By AM1(AW) Edward Knowles, NAS Whidbey Island, AME1(AW) Andrew Allaire, VAQ-133, and AO3 William Jansen, VAQ-139