Captain Kel – Seize the Day

Captain Kel Thompson and Steven Coe
Cayman Airways pilots Kel Thompson and Steven Coe

In writing another article on “Leadership lessons from a Swim Referee” I was reminded of something a mentor and dear friend often said to me. Captain Kel Thompson described being a commercial pilot as “endless hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror“.

Recently I wrote about “Response-ability“, talking about whether we are able to respond in the moments of truth, or do we simply react?

In early September this year, Captain Kel had just such an opportunity. Shortly after takeoff, one engine failed on the jet and he and his fellow pilot had to address this in a moment. The local news covered it simply, however a local facebook post generated a lot of interest as the passenger who wrote it was clearly very moved by the way the pilots responded. The story he wrote in his Facebook post starts with, literally, a BANG a few minutes after takeoff, then he wrote :

“a very calm voice came over the public address system and that was the voice of First Officer Kel Thompson. As I recall he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately, we have just lost an engine, and we will be returning to the airport (ORIA) The aircraft is structurally sound and there is plenty fuel onboard so there’s no need to panic”. This was so soothing to the ears.”

No amount of training, assessment in flight simulators, hours in the air can prepare one for that reaction. In the moment of what could have been sheer terror, the pilots calmly responded and soothed the passengers while quietly returning them safely to terra firma.

On another note, the eagle-eyed may have noticed that in this situation Kel is the First Officer, not the Captain. Yes, indeed, Captain Steven Coe is a highly regarded Captain, yet Kel is called my so many “Captain Kel”.

You see, Kel only recently went back to flying after nearly 25 years out of the cockpit. You can take the man out of Cayman Airways, but you can’t take Cayman Airways out of the man!

As a young man, Kel had been very young indeed to first be a Captain then Chief Pilot and ultimately Managing Director of Cayman Airways. I worked with him as a young and green CFO and learned so much from him and from the experience.

A few years ago Kel had a major health scare, and after that one of his life decisions was to go back to flying. He had always kept flying private aircraft, and also “playing the most expensive video games out there!” (as he would say), going to flight simulation to stay current. Not many airlines will take back a pilot of “a certain age” to fly commercially, but Kel is not any pilot, plus, in staying current, he had chosen to :

do something today

Am also reminded of the Latin phrase “carpe diem”, or “seize the day”. From Kel’s story here, what could you do today rather than put off until tomorrow?

I leave you with the amazing Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society. Carpe Diem!