In the news · Word of the week

Word of the week: helicopter

Last Friday’s edition of BBC2 quiz show “Mastermind” included the following question: “The name of what form of aerial transport comes from the Greek for spiral and wing?” It was during the final general knowledge round, which you can see at 24:44 on this BBC iPlayer link for the next 26 days. The answer is helicopter. The contestant guessed wrongly, with gyroscope, but she still went on to win this week’s show.

The weekend began with a question about the etymology of the word helicopter and was dominated by news of the helicopter crash near Leicester City football ground that claimed the lives of all five on board. May they rest in peace. The club’s chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha was among them, as this BBC page confirms.

It was 22 years ago this month that Chelsea FC vice-chairman Matthew Harding also died in a helicopter crash after a game. This retro-looking BBC page from 1997 reports on the findings from the official report, a year after the accident. I recall the story from the time, but had remembered the details incorrectly, thinking it was a small plane rather than a helicopter, and would have placed it in 1997 rather than 1996. I also recall a TV documentary not long after the crash, during which Ken Bates (Chelsea chairman at the time) made some very uncomplimentary remarks about his former vice-chairman.

My own experience of helicopter travel was recounted in this piece from May last year, recalling my first trip to New York City. Here’s the relevant paragraph:

In September 1999 two of us returned to the city and took a helicopter ride from [near Battery Park]. It flew us close to the Statue of Liberty and continued on up through Manhattan to Central Park, then returned to base mostly flying over water. It was terrifying. Later our friends from New Jersey told us we were crazy. “Those things go down all the time, man. That’s why they fly over the river so when they crash they won’t kill anyone on the ground.” When I returned to Manhattan the following year with the woman who was to become my wife (and is still my wife) we took a simulated helicopter ride in a small movie theatre located on one of the top floors of the Twin Towers. It reminded me of seeing the movie “Earthquake” in Sensurround in the 1970s. The seats tilted, there was a little bit of shaking. My future-wife, who is prone to travel sickness, said “Well that was all right. The real helicopter ride wasn’t as bad as that, was it?” “It was a thousand times worse,” I said, “That was nothing.”

That single sight-seeing trip over Manhattan is still the only time I have been on a helicopter. Admittedly there have been few further opportunities to use this mode of transport in my day-to-day life. It is more the preserve of owners and board members of Premier League football clubs, but if offered a helicopter ride after a game I’m pretty sure I’d stick with my usual route home. Cars, coaches and trains have served me just fine.

 

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