Danger Men

Tuesday 23rd December at 8:00pm on five

This six-part series examines some of the most dangerous jobs in the world and profiles the men who risk their lives to put in an honest day’s work. The final instalment of the series follows a group of elite loggers who face death every day in the timber forests of British Columbia.

Vancouver Island is home to Standing Stem Logging Company, a group of fallers who work the island’s 12,000 square miles of dense forest. While logging can be a lucrative industry, it is also a perilous one –with an average of two injuries a week. For this reason, Standing Stem employs only the most experienced loggers in the region.

“The west coast faller is the cream of the crop,” says company owner Dwayne Hearn. Standing Stem has been fortunate in winning a lucrative £3million contract. However, the job is conditional on each faller logging a truckload of trees per day, which works out to be 100 cubic metres of timber per worker.

Although Dwayne knows his men are capable of pulling this large haul, heavy snow and rain has put them months behind schedule. To add to their workload, head faller Grant Forester is tied up training a new recruit. First-aider Warren Robinson is trying to make the step up to becoming a professional lumberjack. “He’s like a babe in the woods,” says Grant. Warren’s first fall comes in the form of a gigantic 100ft cedar that weighs in at 14 tons. He begins with a single chainsaw cut at the tree’s base. This incision, called the undercut, is the most crucial part of the process as it dictates the trajectory at which the tree falls. “Done the wrong way, it’s lethal,” says Grant. After making the cut, Warren directs the tilt of the tree with a jack. It is up to Grant to make the backcut, which creates a hinge, and the cedar falls steadily to the ground.

Although Warren’s first fall is a success, Grant raises the stakes on the pair’s next job –the newbie must make the backcut himself. It is the first time Warren has used such a big chainsaw and controlling the beast is no easy task. However, he manages to successfully execute the incision. Whether Warren will make the grade or not is down to the judgement of the company’s experts. “Some people don’t have the guts and the intestinal fortitude to be a faller,” remarks Dwayne.

One faller at the top of his game is Chris Ross. An expert climber, it is Chris’s job to lop the tops off
trees. With an expected output of between ten and 20 falls a day, Chris spends up to six hours at a time in the treetops. Armed with a chainsaw and heavy pack, Chris climbs his first tree of the day –a towering fir. He makes an undercut and a backcut, creating a hinge, and the top of the tree crashes to the ground. After this job is done, Chris moves on to a cedar, swinging across to it using a hook and rope.

“A bit of blood and pain is part of a day’s work,” he says. One of Vancouver Island’s most famous fallers is Bill Kriwokon. At 62 years of age, Bill is renowned for his accident-free record and high yield. “It’s not a dangerous job for me,” he says. “It’s a pleasant job.” While the speed at which Bill works causes some concern for safety officers, the logging veteran insists that he knows his limits. “If I get hurt, I’m the only one who’s gonna feel the pain,” he says. However, Bill has a constant reminder in his life of the dangers of the work. His younger brother, Norm, is paralysed from the waist down after a logging accident saw him crushed beneath a falling tree.

Thursday 11th December at 9:00pm

This six-part series examines some of the most dangerous jobs in the world and profiles the men who risk their lives to put in an honest day’s work. The fifth episode of the series focuses on the construction workers responsible for building the huge turbines at one of the biggest wind farms in the US. Facing terrifying heights, gigantic parts and massive machinery, these men battle the elements in a bid to harness the power of Mother Nature.

Situated just 30 miles from the Canadian border, Ethridge, Montana, is one of the windiest places in the US. In this remote, inhospitable terrain, a new industry is exploding –wind-farm construction. With wind power the fastest-growing energy source in the world, hundreds of specialist construction workers are flooding to Montana to claim their share of the fortune. “This is going to be the new land of opportunity,” says Kurt Arentsen, the man responsible for the biggest wind farm project in the state. “It is a gold rush.”

Kurt is charged with overseeing the construction of 140 turbines in an area of 35 square miles, at a cost of some £200million. He and his 200-strong workforce are already behind schedule thanks to high winds and rain. Ironically, the very force the men have come here to exploit is threatening to derail the project. “The weather is our biggest challenge,” says Kurt. They now have just eight weeks to put up the first 70 turbines, but before work can begin, the men must get to know the site’s strict safety regime. “We are very focused on training,” says Kurt.

The task of putting up each turbine falls to two teams –the base team, which deals with the bottom two sections of the shaft; and the top-off team, which adds the top section of the shaft and the rotor blades. In charge of positioning the first section is heavy-lift crane operator Keith Miles. After taking a reading to ensure that the wind speeds do not exceed 35mph, he sets about moving the huge piece onto its foundations. The part weighs as much as seven double-decker buses, but must be moved with absolute accuracy to avoid damaging the control computer –and the other workers. “You can’t lose concentration when you’ve got all this responsibility in your hands,” says Keith.

While the middle section is lifted into position, two of the base team climb to the top of the first section and await the arrival of 52 tons of steel. “I’ve never fallen,” says Chris Cyr as he makes his way to the op
of the tower. “If you did fall, you’d be in a lot of trouble.” On this occasion, Chris and fellow climber Brian King make it to the top unharmed, but must now race against time to secure the middle section before bad weather sets in. “We need to get this one stacked,” says Brian. “It’s getting windy up here.”

With just two days left to complete the first turbine, it is time for the top-off team to take the reins –and new boy Oscar Scott has his first opportunity to shine. Like many of the workers at this site, Oscar has travelled thousands of miles to be here, and has brought his wife and child with him. Having risked everything for this job, Oscar needs to prove to his colleagues that he is up to the challenge. “There is a lot of pressure,” he says. “I want to be very precise –and very safe.” For his first task, the inexperienced Oscar must climb to the apex of the existing tower to secure the top section as it is lowered into position. “When you first step inside that tower and look up that ladder, it’s like looking at the stairway to heaven,” he says. If he conquers his nerves and performs well, he will be rewarded with six months of solid work –earning more than twice the amount he could earn at a regular construction project. But with big money comes big risks. The final part of the building process sees Oscar working 260ft in the air, where strong winds often make it difficult to stand. However, Oscar is not easily intimidated. “This is awesome –I have the best job in the world,” he concludes.

This six-part series examines some of the most dangerous jobs in the world and profiles the men who risk their lives to put in an honest day’s work.

The fourth episode of the series focuses on the lucrative world of commercial diving. US Underwater Services is one of America’s biggest commercial diving companies. Based in Dallas, Texas, it covers jobs throughout the country, from the icy seas of Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico. The experts’ work involves cleaning and repairing water towers, sewerage systems and offshore oil rigs. This profession can bring in salaries exceeding $100,000,but the work is incredibly dangerous. Working underwater brings with it the risk of internal injuries, such as embolisms, thrombosis and decompression sickness. “Complacency is what gets people killed,” says general manager Bryan Nicholls.

Commercial diving jobs are highly sought after, but difficult to attain. Eighty per cent of new rookies fail to pass their initial test. “People that come in think that it’s bikinis and Budweiser,” says Bryan, “but it’s really not.” Nineteen-year-old Matt Donaldson has just finished diving school and has left his family and friends behind in Seattle in order to pursue a career at the company. “The chicks dig it and I hope to make good money, so that’s why I’m here,” he says.

During his training, Matt will be working with experienced divers Chris Ryder and Matthew Olson. On the trio’s first job together, they check the interior of a water tower for cracks. The tower has a one million-gallon capacity and stands at 130ft. The men each have a different role in the operation – Matthew will perform the dive; Chris will direct the operation via radio from his base on the ground; and Matt is responsible for tending to the diving equipment atop the tower. The gear includes the vital “umbilical cord”, which is connected to the diver inside the tank. It consists of three leads –a rope, an
audio-visual cable and the crucial air pipe. With no experience working from such a height, Matt is very nervous. After a promising start, he makes a calamitous error –he has not attached his radio properly and it falls to the ground below. He now has no way of communicating with either Chris or Matthew. Fortunately, Matthew resurfaces safely. As punishment for his clumsy mistake, Matt is taken off dive operations and put on yard duty. He is also ostracised from the group. “You’ve got to be real hard on people to make them earn your trust,” says Matthew. Later in the week, Matt is asked to perform his first working dive. There is no room for error and it is make or break time for the young man if he is to fulfil a lifelong dream of becoming a professional diver.

Meanwhile, the veteran divers are called to a job at an oil rig in Mississippi. It is a lucrative contract, but a perilous one. New bolts need to be welded onto grilles beneath the site, which means mixing electricity with water. Enduring minor electric shocks is par for the course for anyone in the trade.
But there is an even greater threat lurking beneath the depths –the welding rods generate intense levels of heat, which in turn create hydrogen pockets above the divers’ heads. If they bring their rods close to these bubbles, they could cause a major explosion.

For professional divers, it is the level of danger that makes the job so appealing. “There are so many bad things that can happen, but that’s what makes it really fun,” enthuses Matthew.After two hours of
focused welding work, the exhausted diver is brought to the surface to rest. “I love doing it and can’t see myself doing anything else,” he concludes.

This six-part series examines some of the most dangerous jobs in the world and profiles the men who risk their lives to put in an honest day’s work. This instalment throws the spotlight on the daredevils of the Royal Air Force, the elite Red Arrows aerobatics display team.

The Red Arrows are recognised all over the world for their breathtaking aerobatic stunts and bright red Hawk combat jets. But what many people do not realise is the rigorous training and risks attached to this prestigious job.

At Akrotiri Peninsula in Cyprus, the biggest RAF base in the Mediterranean, nine ace fighter pilots have been taking part in a gruelling five-month training session. At the end of this period, they will be judged on whether or not they are worthy of wearing the hallowed red suit. Six of the pilots are working to gain re-admittance into the squad, which is refreshed on a yearly basis. The remaining three men have been given their first ever chance of entering the elite unit. After 220 practice sessions, Wing Commander Jas Hawker, or ‘the boss’ as he is known, is still not happy that his new batch of pilots have achieved the pinnacle of perfection in their timing and positioning. “Our aim is to be the best display team in the world,” he says.

In the 44-year history of the squadron, there have been six deaths. Due to the high level of risk involved in the job, all potential Red Arrows must be experienced RAF fighter pilots who have logged at least 1,500 flying hours in high-speed jets. They must also have completed at least one combat mission over the course of their career. The Hawk jets reach speeds of over 400mph – often flying little more than 4ft apart.

When the day of the trainees’ assessment arrives, Air Chief Marshal Sir Clive Loader discusses the aim of the test. “I’m actually here to assure myself that the way the sorties are run and the safety of the team are as they should be,” he says. Fortunately, this batch of Red Arrows hopefuls passes the test with flying colours.

After their exam, the pilots are able to relax with their families. But it remains crucial that they keep their fitness levels up during periods of downtime. One of the biggest dangers faced by the Arrows is the gravitational force placed on their bodies during flight. To counteract this, the airmen tense their stomach and leg muscles in order to force the blood back up to their heads. Pulling a lot of Gforce eventually renders a person unconscious. The pilot will initially experience tunnel vision, which gradually worsens until they can only see black. “If you strain against it,” says Flight Lieutenant Damian Ellacott, “then you can force your vision back.”

After a successful debut performance at the Southern Airshow, the Red Arrows face perhaps their biggest challenge of the season. They are performing alongside three other aerobatics teams at a meeting in Canada. The Quebec International Airshow is one of the few chances the Arrows get to measure their skill and technique against other units. To add to the challenge, they must first fly to Quebec in their Hawks with no navigation or radar systems. The aircraft have small fuel tanks, which means the journey must be made in seven stages. The trip will take the Red Arrows across the wastelands of Iceland and Greenland, where freezing temperatures require the pilots to don protective clothing.

Four days and 4,000 miles later, the Red Arrows reach their destination, where they are introduced to three other elite aerobatics units, including the US Navy’s Blue Angels, who pilot state-of-the-art FA-18 Hornets, and the US Air Force Thunderbirds in their F-16 fighter jets. How will the Red Arrows measure up against this daunting competition?

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