I knew from the onset that by finally electing to go public was never going to be the easiest of paths to take, yet a move only taken after much deliberation. Furthermore this step was only taken as the very last resort, & after all other avenues had failed to bring SBS into line with the professionally accepted norm, above all else yet with an element of urgency, bring them closer to safer operational practices.
With passenger safety evidently in short supply, compounded with the fact that there was no worthy authority (with teeth) to turn to, a public awareness program was very much called for. It's just a pity that SBS passengers had to killed for the site to be transformed from critics previous misplaced description of disgruntled ex-employee, to a credible legal document, one that has subsequently been referred to in US court proceedings, one that by necessity, may well be referred to in future legal proceedings.
After receiving a letter from director Tony Pascoe closing with a grossly provocative invitation of "Nigel put up or shut up", given the deplorable circumstances, i.e. 1: Dangerously under fuelled balloons, 2: Inadequate deflation systems, 3: Coupled to rigid, yet at the same time proven tragic indifference to pilot & passenger safety, I felt that the choice given were so limiting to the point that there really was no choice at all.
Of course if one is to put this into true perspective, one must take into account that the above taunting statement came many weeks after having being subjected to other taunting claims from 's same author, of being able to pay bribes to the local civil aviation authority. Just for good measure that claim was topped off with threats to tarnish my reputation within the industry if I didn't go quietly.
I would hope that once you have evaluated all those tainted ingredients, I feel that even the most hardened critics, may finally start to appreciate the situation for what it is. It remains my philosophy that even in the safest of workplace environments, which ballooning is inherently not, one cannot simply sit back and allow workplace bullying to compromise the safety of not only their employees, but also their clients that have placed their trust in there operation.
For a pilot to come out and go public just as I have, not only is it very dangerous for myself, undoubtedly it is of course hugely embarrassing for the operator in question, however weeks after receiving this letter of support in February 2010, (found below) "when others fail to see the negative events about to unfold" with SBS failing to heed the most valid warnings, at the same time, so arrogantly displaying their total indifference towards passenger safety, on 5 May 2010 , based on solid foundation, by professional & moral necessity, I confidently warned the public to expect an accident coming out of the Serengeti Balloon Safaris rides operation.
Even without the need to make any valid reference to questionable equipment & fuel configuration, ultimately it was the displayed attitude that gave a clear indication that it was obvious that there was an accident waiting to happen in the Serengeti. In short there was a clear indication of the operator being so obviously dangerously overconfident, one that had failed to learn lessons from previous accidents, to the point of appearing to have failed to acknowledge that accident happened within their operation on numerous occasions previously. From my standpoint this all amounted to tragic consequences of loss of life by the operator, after failing to adopt the appropriate safety culture.
Once any pilot goes public on passenger safety issues, retaliation isn't far behind.
In June 2010 SBS/Tony Pascoe published his counterclaim website. As one might expect, there was some wholesale ridicule coming my way, not only questioning my competency, yet also my mental state, let's see what he had to say:-
It is complete nonsense that his dismissal had anything whatsoever to do with his concerns for safety. Rather, it was our concern for safety of passengers and colleagues that caused us concern regarding his mental state and we felt that he was a serious liability.
Worthy of note at this juncture is that I have since learnt that this is the normal line of defence when a whistleblower finally speaks out.
"Safety is our absolute priority. We have been operating balloons in Serengeti since 1989 and have an excellent ballooning safety record"
Upon reading the above sentence, yet prior to SBS's next fatal accident that is only weeks away, I quickly responded, stating that therefore the odds must by now be stacking up against them. You may well want to take a more in-depth look at what Mr Pascoe had to say in his outburst. I should warn you that it is not at all pretty, nor is it in anyway factual. Nevertheless once one sees such a knee-jerk publication, you may well understand that I had no alternative but to defend myself. A Pandora's box had just been opened. I do have an 18,000 word response to Mr Pascoe's outburst, one that may well find its way onto this site during the coming weeks.
October 2010: Soon after the fatal accident of 29th September 2010), not in the least surprising to me, was that their counterclaim website was immediately changed, after all, how could it not be!
Overconfident, obviously failing to learn lessons from previous accidents, (there had been a few low-flying trees, I now understand to be a big tourist attraction in the Serengeti) it's not long before the Domino effect comes into play, unfortunately, as is often the case, with the disastrous consequences.
The Domino Effect
1. 1999 & 2006: Ballooning accidents causing serious injury to passengers necessitating helicopter evacuation, additionally there's also confirmed reports that in a year unknown, of a SBS ground crew being crushed to death after a balloon basket landed on top of him.
2. February 2008: Fixed wing accident, aircraft owned & registered to Serengeti Balloon Safaris, two or killed three injured.
3. February 2009: Subsequent to a Civil Aviation annual inspection, apparently on the orders/recommendations of the Tanzanians Civil Aviation Authority, two new positions are created. SBS are for the first time to have safety officers. One of these two positions comes to myself. I issue recommendations over safety concerns, very much aware that SBS do not like changes, my initial written response is purposely toned down.
4. March 2009: SBS sacked their safety officer (that's me) just days after I had issued my first & what was obviously to be my last safety brief. The countdown to two further accidents commences.
5. September 2009: I have since learned that just months after my departure (March 2009,) that on 27 September 2009, SBS had suffered an accident whereby a passengers suffered head injuries. The injuries were serious enough to require medical attention. That accident was the result of a balloon crashing into a tree. I am informed that the American pilot involved in that unfortunate event, was subsequently sacked. With the above pilot having since contacted me, I understand that SBS had the decency to replace broken camera equipment that was sustained during this crash.
6. Time for SBS to seek out yet another replacement.( my replacement, replacement, if you get my drift)
7. Step forward the Canadian replacement. The clock is still ticking, one year and two days after the above accident, one American along with one Danish passenger are to be killed. Other will suffer life long injuries, yet adding insult to their physical injuries, in an out of court settlement a survivor who is about to loose her husband in SBS next fatal accident, shall suffer the indignity of being gagged. This brings about the question of, what is there to hide? Will investigations reveal previous accounts of recklessness?
8. 29th of September 2010: Canadian pilot crashes killing two passengers, at the same time injuring eight others.
9. November 2010: Masked men come calling to hunt me down. see Timeline 2010. This has all the ingredients of a good novel of nightmarish proportions.
SBS demand $500,000 from me, apparently according to the operator, it is the very pilot & safety officer that correctly warned of disaster that is damaging SBS's operation. Seems like a case of being in total denial.
10. June 2011: UK SBS threatens to sue me for defamation yet the sabre rattling dies down by years end. From what I am led to believe, SBS would have been required to deposit a sum of £200,000 with the courts prior to taking this case further. With truth of what I had said undoubtedly the best defence in such cases, I feel that SBS were guaranteed to lose & they along with their solicitors knew it. Their agenda of harassment and intimidation dissipates for a while, Now what could they do if they are to at last silence me? They desperately needed a plan.
11. September 2012: I'm just about to testify in the US court against Serengeti Balloon Safaris.
12. September 2012: UK, Tony Pascoe lodges what I view as malicious complaint with Avon and Somerset police, apparently there are two complaints, one of harassment , the other blackmail, economical, as unlike deformation lawsuits, Iam now placed whithin the criminal arena, there's no deposit necessary, SBS are economical with the truth. malicious and abuse of process.
13. September 20, 2012: As I arrived at York police station accompanied with a criminal defence solicitor, it soon transpires that the investigating of officers seems to think that it was I that had demanded $500,000 from Tony Pascoe. One must question as to why they got this so wrong.
Now viewed as a potential criminal the detectives were not convinced with my version of events, subsequently they make a call to Tony Pascoe to seek clarification. Soon it's confirmed that Mr Pascoe had indeed demanded $500,000 from me. The question that begs announcer is, was this a catastrophic mistake made by the investigating detectives, or alternatively, have they been purposely deceived so as to secure police support. This is undoubtedly a matter that demands to be examined during any future court proceedings.