Seeing Safety Clearly
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 STEVEN DIONNE
B Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment
Fort Drum, New York
There I was, upside down and grinding my way down the road. It was a cold, snowy day in northern New York and I had just learned a hard life lesson.
It was a Saturday and my friend and I met at his house to knock out some home improvement projects. When finished, we decided to take out his four wheelers. One of our favorite pastimes that season was flying down the snow-covered roads and trails, especially on days when the conditions were too bad to go to work. We began by digging out his spare four wheeler, which was buried beneath 3 feet of snow from the particularly harsh winter. It had been a while since we last rode, so we ended up dragging the four wheeler to the garage and hooking it to a battery charger.
While it charged, we collected our gear. Since it was winter, I had on my tall work boots, jeans with long underwear, gloves and my heavy jacket. We didn’t initially plan on riding that day, but since the home projects went well we decided to cut loose. That meant I hadn’t thought to bring any protective eyewear. Our plan was to leave his house and head to mine, which was just a mile down the road, grab some safety glasses and link up with my neighbor and his four wheeler. I ended up borrowing one of my friend’s helmets that did not have a built-in face shield; but I had ridden without eyewear before, so I wasn’t too worried.
We put on our gear, fired up both four wheelers and headed out. My friend took lead as we headed down the back road to my house. It’s a two lane road, but small enough that there are no line markings. The roads were plowed and salted earlier that day, so they were fairly clear even with the light snow that started falling. The sun had just set as we headed for my house and we were a little behind schedule, so we ended up tearing down the road.
Visibility issues quickly became a problem. Without anything to protect my eyes from the stinging snow, salt and sand mixture, I ended up squinting and turning my head to avoid getting blasted in the face. This would have been a good time to let off the throttle and put some distance between me and my friend, but adrenaline and excitement prevailed. Then it happened. As we approached my house, I expected my friend to turn into the second driveway, not the first. I didn’t notice his brake light and I hadn’t started slowing down yet.
My front-right tire caught his left-rear tire, causing my tie rod to break and spin me. The wheels caught and I flipped on my back with the four wheeler. Before I realized what was happening, I was on my back, sliding down the road.
I immediately got up. I had no injuries that I felt, not even a bruise or tender spot. We collected the four wheelers and pushed them to my garage to survey the damage. Both machines had bent wheels and a few scuffs. My tie rod was broken, and his rear axle was bent. The helmet I was wearing had just a small scuff on the side. We realized our ride was over, but I thought we were pretty lucky.
The next morning, I woke up and immediately got scared. I had double vision; the further down I looked, the worse it got. There was no pain, dizziness or nausea — just fear that my aviation career was over! I went to the hospital and was later examined by an optometrist, who decided I was suffering from palsy in an eye muscle. My impact with the ground the day prior was not hard enough to cause a concussion, but somehow my eye muscles didn’t fare so well.
The doctor gave me an eye patch, which was a real hit at work, and I got chauffeured around for a week before the palsy went away on its own. Along with my down slip, I also collected my first Class D Army mishap. Even though my symptoms were gone, I gave myself about a month before I came back on an up slip, just to be sure everything was normal.
When I look back on this incident, I realize it all could have been avoided. Had I been wearing protective eyewear, I would have seen that my buddy was slowing down and avoided the collision. Also, the helmet I borrowed was a size extra-large, which was too big for my head. I’m fortunate that it stayed on when I crashed. I have certainly learned from my close call and hope others think about my ridiculous face with that eye patch before they make the same mistakes.