My biggest Rescue (Heads up - this is a long one)
Way back in 1985 I was stationed at Elizabeth City, NC. As it was explained to the crew, the city of Roanoke, VA was flooding, people were trapped and needing help. Apparently, the state police were called for air assistance, but they did not have a helicopter rigged for rescue. The Air Force was called but I never heard or don't remember why they couldn't help (the AF is responsible for inland rescues). The Navy was called but they also didn't have any available assets. Finally, the Coast Guard was called.
The closest CG base with Search and Rescue (SAR) helo's was Elizabeth City, some 300 miles away. As the "ready" helicopter was already deployed, a second crew and helicopter were selected and sent on their way. The crew included 2 pilots, a flight mechanic. avionicsman, and rescue swimmer.
We had to pass through 3 lines of thunderstorms enroute that airliners were being rerouted around. Plus, we were inland and in mountains, which is the exact opposite of our normal operating areas. Needless to say, we were out of our comfort zones. All but the pilot who had flown in Vietnam with the army. I'm pretty sure that that man was the best helo pilot I ever flew with. On the other hand, the co-pilot was on his very first SAR flight.
By the time we got to Roanoke, the HH-3F helo (the original Jolly Green Giant) had lost its new, fancy color weather RADAR, the nose light, and the windshield wipers due to the helo leaking like a sieve from flying through the thunderstorms. I must say, the RADAR put on quite the light show as it shorted out. The only forward looking light for the pilots to see what was in front of them was the nightsun, which was operated by the avionicsman (me).
We finally landed at the airport and got updates on where we were needed and where the folks were stranded. Apparently, the river had flooded the industrial part of town with no way out for the stranded people. The crew briefed. Wait. WE are going to be doing rescues from buildings, in the dark, between some mountains???? Yup. And don't forget the telephone poles and wires. THIS IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHERE WE WORK! We are used to being in the dark, in rough seas with boats and ships bouncing around! Yeah, so keep your eyes open! And watch the tail (tail rotor - which if it hits anything we were going to have a really bad night!) Off we went.
We made multiple sorties hoisting multiple people out from the flood waters surrounded buildings. At one point, we put the rescue swimmer in the water as there was a telephone pole that had wedged up against the exit door of the building keeping the door closed. Now when hoists are being performed, the only people talking on the Inter Communications System (ICS) is the hoist operator (HO and also normally the Flight mechanic) and Pilot at the controls. It sounds like, "Forward and right 20. Hold forward, easy right. Altitude looks good. Hold. Hold. Swimmer is in the water. Easy back and left, Swimmer is pulling the pole from the door, etc." The HO is the eyes for the pilots as they can't see directly below the helo.
That's when I saw the most amazing sight I've ever seen. The ICS went completely silent (which during a hoist it never should.) Next thing I heard was HOLY SHIT! another voice, did I just see what I just saw? G*d D*MN! About that time the HO recovered and went back into professional mode with, the swimmer just pitched a telephone pole over his shoulder and is entering the building.
I had just watched the rescue swimmer, who is a big guy, toss a telephone pole OVER HIS SHOULDER like it was a stick!!! Talk about adrenaline rushes!
We flew back to the airport, dropped off the survivors, and went back. Picked up more and went back to the airport, wash, rinse, and repeat multiple times. After watching the swimmer toss that pole we were bullet proof, hovering where our tail rotor would come within a foot or two of poles and lines, getting that huge helicopter into tight places it should never be so we could hoist survivors, and the co-pilot only losing control of the helo once (thankfully not during a hoist.)
Finally, it was over. We were all ready for a shower, something to eat, and a beer. not necessarily in that order. We were hailed by the airport folks as heroes. We were just tired but they sent us to this nice hotel on the hill. It was getting late. We checked in at the hotel to find out there was no running water. The Swimmer politely excused himself, disappeared, and returned about ten minutes later. He explained he needed a shower, but since none was available, he had gone swimming in the pool. It was November. We also didn't have to pay for our beers or dinner that night when word got out who we were.
The next morning as we taxied out to head for home we saw State Police, Air Force, Navy, NBC, CBS, and many other unidentifiable helos coming in or already on the ground. A day late and a dollar short.
We had airlifted 27 1/2 (one was pregnant) people and a dog. It was a good night.
Thanks for reading and see you next time!
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