overhead for some time last night. In the darkness it was not possible to see whether it was the rescue, news or police helicopter. It was unlikely to be something belonging to the armed forces because, as far as I know, they have none stationed here.
We sometimes see a helicopter in daylight. They are normally rescue or police dealing with a major incident, sometimes just a major traffic snarl up. If the police helicopter circles in business hours we can be fairly sure that a bank or post office has been held up or some idiot is being chased through the suburbs. If it is the rescue helicopter we hope that nobody is too badly injured.
At night it is a different story. We cannot guess what is going on. Over the years we have had searchlights appear, powerful searchlights that light up the sky to unbelievable brightness. One night a couple of years back there was one of those gutwrenching brake screeching booms on a main road not too far from here. It was so bad that it sounded as if it had occurred in the next street not, as subsequent traffic noises told me, on the main road. A helicopter had been up for some other reason and, almost immediately, it was hovering over the scene with a search light. A little later it had left again. I assume it had informed the services on the ground of the situation because sirens sounded and traffic was still being diverted the following morning. A young man had chosen to end his life by crashing into what South Australians call a 'stobie pole' - concrete and steel poles that carry electricity across the suburbs. (They are named after the man who originally designed them.) It was close to home. We were shocked but we did not know the young man.
Last night was clear and cold and I was reminded of something else, an incident that occurred when we lived in a remoter location. Some of the local boys had cars, most of them could drive from an early age. There were accidents but nobody in the immediate district had, to that point, been killed or even seriously injured. One night however my father had a telephone call. It was the police from a town further along. Could he get some help and block off the road outside the school so that the crop-duster could land? (The crop duster was a light plane used to spray crops with fertiliser.) He was given fairly precise instructions and told "there has been an accident".
That night a young crop-duster pilot landed and took off outside the school house which was our home. He did it not just once but twice. Each time he had to fly with a critically injured patient to the city - and he had to go without any of the usual medical help because the little plane could only carry him and the patient. I still wonder what he saw and thought. He died several years later in what might or might not have been an accident.
At school the next day the students were unusually quiet. We knew what had happened because the school buses had been required to take a detour. We were relieved to find that those involved were not local. They had absconded from the reformatory in the city. We did not know them.
It always seems that way. We see an accident and we are shocked, perhaps even shaken but, unless we know those involved, the impact seems short lived. We view incidents on television with an internal remote control that causes us to 'switch off'. We read of incidents with the same internal remote control switched off. It is a survival mechanism. We really do not want to be involved.
I wonder why the helicopter was up there last night but I am thankful there were no accompanying sirens.