Bombs, Elephants and Puerto Rico

Traveling everywhere from gold mines in Laos to military testing grounds near Puerto Rico, and having used just about every conceivable form of transportation from airplane to elephant to do it, it’s been a busy month for Aqua Survey founder Ken Hayes.  Read on to find out more.

Did you ever live through a month that no amount of imagination could have ever envisioned?

I am in that month right now.  I have traveled to dozens of countries for business and pleasure in the past. This month I traveled to the remote jungles of Laos to demonstrate some electromagnetic metal detection equipment we designed to meet some pretty demanding unexploded ordnance (UXO or bombs) detection specifications.  The bombs are Vietnam vintage and now buried in the jungle’s metal-rich soil.  The soil is magnetic and conductive and has foiled effective use of other UXO detection technologies in the past. The bombs continue to kill or maim villagers on a daily basis.  Our analog down-hole probe and our digital survey equipment tested well.  That is just part of the story.

Philadelphia to Toronto to Shanghai to Kunming (China) to Bangkok to Ubonratchthani (Thailand) and finally to Sepon from Savannkhet (Laos) by chopper to a remote mining camp in the jungle.  A low altitude chopper flight is an amazing way to take in an incredibly dense jungle sprinkled with a few dozen isolated rice paddy villages.

About 30 miles outside of Sepon is a gold and copper pit mining operation that the Ho Chi Minh Trail runs right through. Forty years ago we tried to bomb this Vietcong supply route into oblivion.  The area now is strewn with thousands, if not millions, of unexploded bombs.  The mining camp has taken the admirable initiative to train the villagers to use modern detectors to locate and then dispose of the bombs.  The Vietcong also strung trip-wire booby-traps.  What a mess.  To date about 80,000 munitions have been safely removed.  The new equipment we left behind will allow the field teams to detect more deeply buried bombs thus greatly increasing safety, efficiency and effectiveness.

When I left New Jersey I already knew our equipment would work unless some unknown phenomenon would mug us.  There would be a lot of firsts for me on this trip:

China, Thailand, Laos and Japan
Living in a shipping container
Being in a jungle with wild elephants
Working in a communist country
Walking in areas with cobras and UXO
Experiencing the spiritual center of Laos, Luang Prabang

My mom was a little concerned her 58-year-old son might not be as safe in the jungles of Laos as he would be in Flemington, New Jersey.  Mom…not even one mosquito bite…relax.  Last week Bill Rottner and I did a site visit to Vieques Island, Puerto Rico in advance of upcoming UXO survey tasks.  The place is covered with diabolical plants.  After the work portion of our trip was over, Bill and I decided to grab our snorkel gear and head to the public beach where I promptly stepped on a sandbur plant.  My foot still hurts.  The moral of this story is to pay attention to the really little things, because they are the ones most likely to cause you pain.

Our goal as a company has been the same since 1975: To leave this watery-blue planet in a better shape than we found it.  We pride ourselves in finding a way to get both big and small projects done safely and professionally.