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Wednesday, November 28, 2012



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*Note:  I wrote and scheduled this post prior to Hurricane Sandy.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.

LEFT BEHIND- the Aftermath
(Part 2 of "Gone with the Hurricane.")*

We return to the island to survey the destruction.  The telltale washboard swells from Hurricane Hugo's wake is still visible in the ocean below...

We buzzed the island.  Debris strewn everywhere.  Nary a rooftop intact.  The entire island, once a vast green jungle, lay brown and defoliated, as if the enemy had dropped napalm.  The only boats not sunk were those washed ashore.  

Boats cluttered the streets of downtown Christiansted.
People emerged from their battered homes and waved to us; we were their first contact from the outside world in two days.

Hugo scored a DIRECT hit on St. Croix...then parked its blender over the island for 8 solid hours...
Rudy circled Christiansted Harbor and gingerly set down in the water, careful not to hit any flotsam from the newly sunk ships.  He taxied up the ramp and out of water.

Seaplane Shuttle employees ran up and cheered; they hadn't known our fate any more than we had theirs.  I shared a tender reunion with Julia, who survived unscathed.
Shuttle employees cheer our arrival, the first sign of civilization they'd seen in 3 days.

Endangered species:The precious Grumman Mallard, now nearly extinct.


The planes we left in St.  Croix had not survived.  They lay scattered across the ramp; twisted pieces of scrap.  At the airport, I found, the other Otter lay on its back, wings clipped at the root, landing gear sticking skyward like the legs of a dead horse.

Cap'n Aux invites Julia aboard.

Hugo claimed the lives of 25 people; no one we knew, thank goodness, was hurt.  But each had a chilling horror story to tell.

Our apartment:  Flooded, destroyed.  But we were lucky.  The only thing left standing in the apartment above us was the shower stall.

John, a Seaplane Shuttle mechanic, hid under a mattress in his bathroom.  With a barometric altimeter, he dutifully recorded the pressure drop while his apartment fell to pieces around him.  At the height of the storm, he noted, the barometric pressure had plummeted over four inches below standard, the equivalent of 4,000’ of altitude, and shattering the record for all previously recorded hurricanes.

FO Chris's former residence
One boat owner, determined to stay with his ship, became a human cannonball as a gust hurtled him into the top of a palm tree.  He crash-landed unharmed, if a bit dazed.

For the next two weeks, chaos reigned.  Looting was rampant.  Gunshots rang through the night.  Gas and food became instant precious commodities.  When driving around the island in “the Flaming Pumpkin,” my bright orange Ford Fiesta “Island car” junker, I carried a machete.

"The flaming pumpkin," my trusty island car, saves our bacon..

That experience made me a true believer in the U.S.  Constitution’s Second Amendment, the Right to Bear Arms.**

After the disaster, most of us moved stateside; leaves blown and scattered in the hurricane wind.  Some stayed behind to rebuild their homes.  With our scant few posessions, Julia evacuated on a U.S.  army C-141 while I stayed behind for two weeks to help close the airline down.

The Seaplane pilot gang, scattered in the hurricane wind. Represented at this table:  future pilots for America West Airlines, USAirways, Delta, United and American Airlines.
For the past year, I had been a highfalutin’ commuter airline captain, living worry free in paradise.  Now, I was pilot pauper, with no poker game in sight to scam a new job (See “The Poker Game that Launched my Career.”)  I jumpseated home to Phoenix with my tail between my legs, once again wondering about my future...

The intrepid crew left behind dig out.
Endangered species:  The precious Grumman Mallard, now nearly extinct.
Confucius say:  He who live in glass house should not reside in hurricane alley.

Hurricane Sale!  Everything must (or already did) go!!!
Clearing an escape path

Today, St.  Croix is largely the resort island it once was.  And that little airline in paradise, gone with the hurricane, has since been replaced by several other intrepid seaplane operators.  The Islands just wouldn’t be the same without one.

As naughty as little Hugo had been, his Mother has seen to it the mess is cleaned up.

My only question:  WHERE THE HELL did that kitchen stove come from?!?!?!?!

*Note:  I wrote this story shortly after experiencing Hugo.  In no way do I want to detract from the many hardships and sufferings experienced by survivors and victims of Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, Ivan, etc.  This is merely the story of my experience.
**Sadly, once Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, NC, the plight of the USVI's were completely forgotten by the outside world.  The first political figure to set foot on St. Croix—one week later—was Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Addendum:  Cap'n Aux, Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle/TWA Express, went on to become FO Aux, Rocky Mountain Airways/Continental Express.
But that's another blog post...

More Info/links/video:
Wiki on Hugo
—An excellent first-hand recounting of events, by meteorologist and former fellow Seaplane pilot, Dr. Jeff Masters
—Dr. Jeff, Hurricane Hunter!
—Hugo: The Longest Night

Cap'n Aux vs. Hurricane Redux: scheduled to fly into the belly of the Hurricane Sandy beast this year on 10/28/12...
Mercifully, the flight canceled at the last minute!


POSTING  12/5/12 AT 11:00 PHX/18:00z:
Cap'n Aux's next VLOG!:

Cap'n Aux's demented take on a classic Christmas poem.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Mayday, Mayday! I'm going down!"

Join the adventure in my new novel, “The Last Bush Pilots

Available in PRINT or eBOOK on
(coming to iBookstore soon; for iPads, use the Kindle app!)

“Mayday, Mayday!  I'm going down!"

So begins the literary thrill ride, The Last Bush Pilots.

Two young pilots, Daniel “DC” Alva and Allen David Foley, take on the world’s most dangerous flying:  the Alaska bush.  But Mother Nature—and a sexy Native Alaskan—stand in their way.

Airline captain and blogger Eric Auxier brings his former Alaska bush flying to life in his second novel, The Last Bush Pilots.  Exhilarating flying, tall tales and larger-than-life characters abound in a wild land that truly is America’s Last Frontier.


“Eric Auxier is the next Tom Clancy of aviation.”
    —Tawni Waters, author, Gold Dust;  Immortelle; 1st place, Top Travel Writers of 2010


Southeast Alaska Seaplanes, Juneau.  Retired airline Captain and  Chief Pilot Dusty Tucker pilots a renegade band of flying misfits.    Meet legendary bush pilot Jake “Crash” Whitakker, equally adept at landing planes and ladies—and “crashin’ ‘em” as well; prankster pilot Ralph Olaphsen, who once set an extinct volcano ablaze on April Fool’s Day; and no-nonsense Check Airman Holly Innes, trying to cut a respectable niche in the notoriously macho bush pilot world—while escaping a dangerous past.

Amid Alaska’s volatile skies, DC and Allen face escalating challenges in and out of the cockpit.  While learning the ropes, the two cheechackos, or greenhorns, are also roped into Crash and Ralph’s hare-brained scheme, Operation Dirty Harry.  Under the suspicious nose of Draconian FAA Inspector Frederick Bruner, the pilots hatch a plot to hijack and rescue a planeload of orphaned bear cubs.  Moreover, mischievous Tlingit Indian Tonya Hunter, as wild and unpredictable as the land in which she lives, plays the two lovestruck cheechackos against each other.

But the true villain of the story is Mother Nature herself.  Alaska’s notoriously fickle weather and rugged terrain take on a life of their own.  Can the two cheechackos survive Her relentless onslaught and launch their fledgeling airline careers?

What others are saying about "The Last Bush Pilots"

 With 12,000+ hours of arctic Alaskan bush flying, reading The Last Bush Pilots was like a glance in a forty year old mirror.  Nice work, Eric.” 
CloudDancer, author, CloudDancer's Alaskan Chronicles.

“I’m much more familiar with Conrad and O'Connor than Clancy and Koontz, but I do know good writing when I see it.  Excellent work on so many levels, with characters as complete as in McPhee's Coming Into the Country.  The plot is beautifully crafted, the use of dialogue skillful.  Most impressive is his technical credibility, whether talking rock climbing, weather, or aircraft.”
W.J. Findley, Airline Captain

"Wow, wow and wow!  Great characters, and great story, in and out of the dangerously beautiful Alaskan skies.  Sheer brilliance! 
Mary L., Flight Attendant 

“Takes the reader on heart-stopping adventures in the beautiful Alaskan landscape.  Where life can change in a moment’s notice!” 

“I’m no aviation buff, but the author knows how to deliver heart-thumping adventure.  I loved his wit, humor, and style.  Completely captivating!”
BonRip, Amazon


A portion of ALL proceeds go to benefit the American Bald Eagle Foundation and the Alaska Conservation Foundation.


View the 30-second BookTrailer:

From the Preface:
People will inevitably ask me just how much of this book is true.  While this novel is entirely fictional, many larger-than-life characters and “tall tales” are inspired by real people and events I encountered while flying the Alaska bush in the summer of’87...
In The Last Bush Pilots, Mother Nature is personified as the Ultimate Adversary, and modern day bush pilots would do well to think of Her as such.  She dominates every decision we make.  To that end, the most accurate scenes in this book are the ones that take place in the air.

Click here to read "Prologue:  A Crash in the Wilderness"


Photos from author Cap'n Aux
Scroll through my real-life Alaska bush pilot photos that inspired my novel
 The Last Bush Pilots
Foggy Juneau Airport (JNU)—just another day's work for the Alaska Bush pilot.

Juneau Sectional—the Bush Pilot's guide to mountainous terrain.

The stunning Juneau Icefield—beautiful and deadly all at once.

My real-life buddy Kevin, inspiration for one of the novel's characters!

One of my favorite-ever pics, of Dozer the Fuel Dog!  He inspired the K-9 character of "Eluk" the flying Malamute in the story!
Beach landing.  A whole lotta this going on in the novel!

"Devil's Paw", JNU Icefield, which is featured in the book...

...and this young "Cheechacko" (local's term for Greenhorn) pilot graces the cover.

"Flightseeing" over the Herbert Glacier—lovely, but no place to land.

My best pics from Alaska
On approach to JNU


This post and this novel are dedicated to the memory of my wonderful friend, Steve Wilson, career Alaska bush pilot. 

 Makes a great gift for the aviation enthusiast, adrenaline junky or voracious reader in your family!

to receive in time for Christmas!


NEXT BLOG POST,  11/21/12:

HUGO, PART 2:  LEFT BEHIND-the Aftermath

"Chaos reigned.  Looting was rampant.  Gunshots rang through the night.   For two weeks, I carried a machete."

Wednesday, November 7, 2012



Text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to automatically donate $10!

Hurricane Sandy, satellite, NASA
A snapshot of Sandy, Oct 29, 2012 

*Note:  I wrote and scheduled this post prior to Hurricane Sandy.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims.

I wrote most of this story shortly after experiencing Hurricane Hugo back in '88, and in no way want to detract from the many hardships and sufferings still being experienced by survivors and victims of other Hurricanes such as Sandy, Katrina and Ivan.  This is merely my story.

I'm sure readers on the East Coast of the U.S. are SICK AND TIRED of all things Hurricane, so for that I apologize!  But by the same token, I hope the rest of the "uninitiated" world will learn something here about living through a hurricane, and also about the madness, mayhem and lawlessness that follows...


Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
Evacuation 1.  Note the telltale washboard swells of the approaching hurricane.*

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
All hail the great god Hugo!
The sole surviving art piece from a multimillion dollar home.

*Hugo: there never was a hurricane more aptly named.  It sounded like the neighborhood bully; a Hubert or Harold just wouldn't have cut it.  And on September 16, 1989, Hugo, the bastard son of Mother Nature, picked a fight with my little airline.

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
The gorgeous Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle Grumman Mallard.
Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines

I was flying for the Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle out of St.  Croix, USVI.  We were a modest but intrepid outfit in the spirit of the isles we served.  

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
Cap'n Aux enroute to SJU (San Juan, PR)

With five Grumman Mallard amphibian seaplanes and two land-based deHavilland Twin Otters, we ferried gawking tourists and locals alike over the turquoise waters, pristine coral reefs and lush jungles of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
Hey, Miss TWA: Can you guess who Cap'n Aux's
FIRST Captain gig was for?!

Yes, it was a job in paradise.

But it was about to become, "Paradise Lost."
Our Idyllic life was about to be turned upside down...

For much of the year, the Caribbean pilot can forecast weather as deftly as the seasoned meteorologist: mostly sunny, isolated showers, light easterly breeze, temperature upper seventies.

This weather station woulda worked well on our lovely island...
until the coconut flew away!

But during hurricane season, the climate undergoes an evil, Jekyll-and-Hyde metamorphosis.  

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
Cap'n Aux greets Mom and Dad, along with FO Mike.
Waves of weather, borne in the mid-Atlantic, sweep through the Antilles like the hands of a clock--and just as regularly.

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
FO Terry (a regular reader of this blog)
during a night run to STT (St. Thomas)

These fronts build momentum, sucking up moisture and energy from the warm Caribbean waters.  Some of these systems hatch tropical storms; often they grow into hurricanes.

Virgin Islands Seaplane Shuttle, Hurricane Hugo, Sandy, cap'n Aux, airlines
Cap'n Aux savors his first real Captain's seat, in the 19-pax Twin Otter (complete with '80 hair and '70's mustache!)
So it is, during this season, that the Caribbean pilot suspiciously eyes each wave of weather, anxiously chews his lip as winds build to hurricane speed, then frantically plots its westward course as it plows across the seas.  

Cap'n Aux gets 'artsy' on the isle of St. John

If the storm veers homeward, the evacuation begins.

"F/O" Julia takes a joyride to St. John in a Mallard...

Such was the case with the season of 1989.  The enemy advanced, our forces retreated.  We evacuated the humble fleet to PSY (Ponce, Puerto Rico.) As copilot Mike and I flew our Twin Otter across the Caribbean Sea, clouds rushed in at record speed.  Thunderstorms popped up like acne on a teen.  Below us a washboard of rhythmic ocean swells stretched to the horizon, warning of the approaching storm.  We landed, lashed down the planes and took refuge in a nearby hotel.  Our troops silently searched the skies for the Blitzkrieg.

Enroute to PSY...
It never came.  We soon lost interest and headed for the officers' club (a local cantina.) The only damage sustained on that outing was a few rum hangovers; the only hurricane present was the one pounding in our heads. 
PSY: A DC-3 basks in a gorgeous rainbow left in the wake of a passing hurricane...
So much for the storm preceding the Main Event.

Hugo came out to play.
We again evacuated, this time to San Juan.  But only three planes were flyable at the time; the others were down for maintenance.  What the heck, we figured, too much trouble to put them back together.  The boy cried wolf last time, it'd probably be the same with Hugo.  We'll take a chance.  And shucks, the last time a major hurricane hit St.  Croix was way back in 1928, right?

We flew above the ocean at 4,000 feet, and again saw the telltale washboard swells.  They radiated like waves from a stone dropped in water.  But this stone was two hundred miles wide.

Again we evacuated.  Again the telltale washboard ocean swells.
We stuffed the planes into a giant, three-story hangar at SJU (San Juan International Airport.) One drawback: no hangar door.  If the hurricane did indeed hit, and the winds blew from the south, the whole building—and its contents—would blow away like Dorothy's house to the land of Oz.  We crossed our fingers.

On approach to SJU.
San Juan Flight Service Station was a bedlam of frantic meteorologists, anxious pilots and noisy reporters.  All crowded in, straining to hear the latest scrap of news on Hugo's progress.  Yes, he would hit.  The Virgin Islands his first target.  STX (Alexander Hamilton Airport, St.  Croix), reported 80mph winds and rising.  Then all contact was lost.
Julia (blue shirt) and some of our crew batten down the hatches on St. Croix.  For three days we didn't know each other's fate...

My guts churned.  All I could do was pray for my girlfriend Julia who, in the last-minute confusion, missed our flight and got left behind on the island to fend for herself.

—LEFT BEHIND—The boys crossing fingers 'n praying the great god Hugo for a successful storm passage...
Hugo slowed, and parked its blistering, 160 mph blender smack on top of St.  Croix.  We scurried to our hotel rooms and battened down the hatches.

The only eye closed that night was Hugo's .  .  .  and it closed in on us.

Remember those lunchtime outings to the airport, sitting under the departure path and listening to the ear-splitting roar of jets overhead?  Well, that's what it sounds like in the middle of a hurricane—for eight solid hours.  And through the din you hear glass shatter, cars crash and tin roofs rip away.  And you pray that your roof isn’t next.
The sleepless night dragged on to morning.  In a feeble attempt at distraction from the onslaught, we played cards.  Being stuck on the ground floor of a hotel only 2 blocks from the beach, our biggest fear was floods and tsunamis.  Mercifully, our ground turned out to be high enough.

Finally, that afternoon, the winds died to a safe speed.  We cautiously emerged, anxious to see how the planes had fared.  All feared the worst.

Downtown San Juan was a flooded obstacle course of debris.

We drove to the airport, forging knee-deep gully washers and swerving around downed power lines, tumbled trees, battered cars.

Largely intact, SJU nevertheless suffered some serious damage...
San Juan Luis Munoz Airport was a mess.  Airplanes lay strewn haphazard about the ramp.  In all, 22 aircraft destroyed.  One DC-3 lay inverted atop another plane, its type indistinguishable.  I chewed my nails as we neared the hangar.

While the hangar was totaled, miraculously the planes inside suffered little damage.
The top two floors were caved in, but otherwise the hangar was largely intact.  Our hopes jumped.  The hurricane, it seemed, had swerved north before reaching San Juan.  Except for a dinged wing tip, our three planes survived.

The next day, Chief Pilot Rudy  deemed it safe enough to take off and scout the ruins of St.  Croix.  All contact was still lost with the entire island.  I feared for Julia's safety.  While she and our friends had hunkered down in a concrete pillbox of a house, I worried that a mudslide would dump them into the ocean.

The twisted remains of a light twin Piper Aztec.
With no airport info nor weather data for STX, we took off.  We only took the two Mallards, as Rudy figured we could land in the bay if the airport was trashed.

It was a flight I'll never forget.  I gazed out the window at the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen; Hugo's final, sarcastic farewell to the newly orphaned islands.  The photo I snapped of our companion Mallard flying formation is the one that graces this blog page, and remains to this day the most gorgeous photo I’ve ever taken.

As I marveled at the fantastic sight, and contemplated its grim irony, I couldn't help but think that the sun was also setting on our little airline in paradise...



POSTING 11/21/12:

HUGO, PART 2:  LEFT BEHIND-the Aftermath

"Chaos reigned.  Looting was rampant.  Gunshots rang through the night.   For two weeks, I carried a machete."

*All photos in this post taken by Cap'n Aux or his friends, unless otherwise noted!


Wiki on Hugo

—A link to a Wall Street article on Storm Damage, for Sandy victims.
—A great Link of Hurricane Sandy photos; thanks, Jim!