Global adventures

Robert Woodward

While showing off some photos from his time overseas, Chico Police crime analyst Robert Woodward mentioned a harrowing experience in Yemen. That led to details of other brushes with danger he experienced as an exploration geologist for a petroleum company. Here is that part of his interview:

I was with a group of people in Yemen on a business trip, and I had to extend my trip one day because I couldn’t get my work done at the ministry. It was summertime, and they close around 1 in the afternoon. That night was the night that the former South Yemen decided to attack the former North Yemen, where I was—in the capital. They starting bombing the city and sending up SCUD missiles, so they closed the airport and I got stuck. It was right at the beginning of the war of 1995; I had to be evacuated by United States Marines who came flying in from Saudi Arabia on these paratrooper planes. They managed to open the airport long enough to let these planes land, and they got all the expats and sick people and people who needed to leave out of the country.

Was that your wildest experience?

Well, it’s probably the most unusual thing. I also had a couple near[-death] things in Alaska. One of them, working in Anchorage, when we were doing field work on the north slope, our group was pursued by a grizzly bear. One of our party managed to get back to our helicopter and push a button which was [the switch for] the starter motor. The rotor and the noise stopped the bear, and he turned around, so we narrowly escaped. Unfortunately I wasn’t at the end of the trail running toward the helicopter; I was up toward the middle.

There was that, and we had a couple of missteps in a jet. One was we were flying to Nome and we’d just reached cruising altitude and the plane banks and just dives. Nobody knows what’s going on, and finally they level off at a couple thousand feet [elevation] and the pilot comes on and apologizes. He said, “I’m sorry, we had to dive—we hit a bird and it shattered the cockpit window.” It didn’t break it, but they had to dive to reduce pressure so the window wouldn’t explode outward. So that was a near-miss there.

Another time, I was coming back from doing well-site work on the north slope and we had to make a trips to Fairbanks instead of going to Anchorage because the nose gear wouldn’t retract, so we had to fly with the front wheels down all the way, which uses more fuel. We stopped in Fairbanks, refueled, and we were heading down the runway, not going too fast, when the nose gear collapses. They’ve got no control over the plane, so we’re sliding all over the runway, and finally we end up in grass off to the side. That was a hair-raising experience.

Oh, I was doing field work in the Philippines and we were on a remote part of the island of Sabu. We drove through this little village, which we later found out was the hideout for a group of bandits, and we saw these guys come running out of the shacks with guns—they had long rifles. So we took off. We saw them jump in their car and start chasing us. Their driver was petrified—he was not going to let them catch us, so we actually outran them before they could catch up with us, and they gave up.

Who’d’ve thought you’d be safer in a police job!

Yeah, isn’t that funny?