Risk Starts Where Planning Stops

Lt. Cdr. Victor Prather and Cdr. Malcolm Ross in Gondola May 4, 1961
Lt. Cdr. Victor Prather and Cdr. Malcolm Ross in the gondola prior to their balloon flight on May 4, 1961 Taken from Reprinted from National Geographic, Nov. 1961, vol. 120, #3, p. 675

By Scott Campsall

On May 4, 1961, Lieutenant Commander Victor Prather took part in an experiment to help develop a high-pressure spacesuit. Both he and another astronaut, Commander Malcolm Ross, wore suits that weighed only 20lbs and were taken by a balloon to an altitude of almost 113,740 feet (34,670 meters). The suit had already undergone and passed numerous tests which included showing it to be air and watertight. 

The flight lasted almost 10 hours and had covered a horizontal distance of 230kms when they landed in the Gulf of Mexico. During the descent, the astronauts opened their face masks when they felt they could safely breathe.

The original plan was for a boat to pick the men up as they had practiced, but this got changed to a helicopter lowering a hook for the men to be retrieved independently.

Ross went first. His foot slipped out of the hook, but he was able to recover without falling into the water.  When it was Prather’s turn, he stepped onto the hook, but used his trailing foot to push the balloon’s floating gondola away. He fell backwards into the water.  The suit should have floated, but since he had removed his face mask, water entered the suit and he drowned.

Nobody had thought to tell the men not to open their masks.  Nobody had thought that there would have been a problem in switching the boat out for the helicopter. Nobody considered the fact that the men might have difficulty with the rescue line, and nobody imagined that Prather would fall into the water and die.

We often take risks without knowing it.  We’re not aware of any potential danger and when the danger is exposed, it’s a surprise.  This was proven in events like the attack on the World Trade Centre on 9/11, and our most recent battle with Covid 19.

We now have better security measures in place to help protect us against terrorist attacks, and we now at least consider doing things like staying home when we’re sick and washing our hands regularly.  When a risk is exposed, we do our best to prevent the predicted threat from occurring.  Think of how many people buy insurance just in case something bad happens!

It’s one of the reasons why we connect with our students so well. We all share the same passion for martial arts and fitness classes, but we also realize that learning self defence techniques in case we need them is just smart. So is staying active so that our doctors tell us we have less to be concerned about as we age!

Risk is what we don’t see coming.  How prepared are you for what you cannot predict?