While I was still flying the
track patrol Decair received a letter from Peru. The letter was passed
around for all to see and was initially taken as a joke. It was a
short letter and poorly written on a typewriter that needed a new ribbon
very badly. The letter said that the writer's uncle was a big general
in the Peruvian Air Force who had given him the assignment to finding a
helicopter company that would come down to Peru and help find oil in their
section of the Amazon jungle. The writer also said that copies of
the letter were also being sent to other helicopter operators.
It was my understanding at the time that Decair was having a cash flow problem. Whether it was a desperation trip or one last fling I do not know but the President of the company went down to Peru and found out the whole thing was legit. Decair, it seemed, was the only one to do so and the President came back with a contract to supply two jet rangers with crews and maintenance in support of their geoseismic exploration activities under a company called Deminix (spelling may be off) out of Germany. He also came back with two pilots that he had run into down there that supposedly ran a chopper operation there that had gone under. They were to become the Operations Manager and Chief Pilot of the operation down there..
It was a surprise to us that the President would come back with people already in place for the operation since we already had a chief pilot and two vice presidents. The Ops Manager was a likeable older guy that had previously run an operation in Hawaii. Something inside thought hinted at a wheeler dealer ladies man type that that always got his way.
The chief pilot was the original "Ugly American". He was arrogant as could be, 63 years old, and nobody could tell him anything because he knew everything that needed to be know about helicopter flying. He was the kind of person that one would hate instantly upon initial introduction.
There was one other pilot that they had also hired but who remained in Peru. His name was Steward Hill. Steward was the actual backbone of the operation and the one who actually did the work. He was a top-notch pilot that got along with everyone.
A new company was formed called "Decair of Peru". It would take Decair of Peru about a month to organize things. Ships were chosen and the word went out for crews. A new ops manual was written and when everything was ready a Peruvian Air force plane would fly into Newburg, NY and load everything up for the trip to Peru.
At this time salaries for chopper pilots were about $12,000 a year and they were paying $25,000 for pilots. I was asked to be one of the pilots, mainly because nobody else wanted to go. As the only "company" man going down and being a mechanic as well I was briefed by the original Decair chief pilot and was aware of every aspect of the operation. After the original group was to go down more pilots would be needed within a few months.
Just a week or so before we were to head down to Peru one of the pilots we had contacted concerning the available positions showed up on our front door. His name was Kusterman, Bob I believe, and he had brought his family with him to the New York area. He was in deep financial need it seemed. As a result, I gave up my slot on the initial flight so that he could take it and begin sending money to his wife.
The plane was loaded with the choppers and all the support equipment and personal then it was packed in even tighter with all the stuff the Generals and their wives could squeeze on. Did they ever go on a shopping spree. An off it went to Peru.
Timely reports started coming in from the Ops Manager stating that all was going along well. Things seemed to be running smoothly, by the book, for about a month. Then unsigned letters started to come in which told of major problems and screw ups that were happening down there. They all seemed to be centered on the chief pilot that was not able to pull his load and was ignoring established procedures. He had ordered the construction of the main radio antenna to be stopped and the antenna was then to be put up as is. When He left with one of the two choppers on one of his side trips to visit old friends for a few days the antenna was completed and put up in the proper manner. It seemed the height to frequency ratio for that antenna was crucial so the crew elected to put it up right. The Chief Pilot had also decided that the 2 minute cool down time required for the engine did not apply to him. These were the two major things that I remember among many others that were written about in the many unsigned letters that Decair was now receiving. I do not remember if someone from the company went down for a look see or if it was done from the main office but a short time later I was informed that Steward Hill was now the chief pilot down there.
The operation was starting to get its act together and they had just shattered the record for "shots fired" by a seismic crew. I believe the old record was 30 shots fired in a month in a jungle setting and they had done 125 shots in one month due to helicopter support. Hill and Kusterman were doing virtually all the flying. It seems that the heat was too much for the chief pilot and he could only fly mornings so the letters said. The schedule was 20 days on and 10 days off. When one them went into Lima for their 10 days off the other had to double up for some reason. And so it was decided that I would go down to take up the slack. The NY chief pilot and one of the Vice Presidents gave me a briefing and off I went. Being the only "company" man down there I was also directed to report back directly to the NY chief pilot about all those problems the letters were telling about. So off I went to Lima, Peru.