The need for helicopters and their crews to aid disaster victims in 2005 was palpable, beginning with the devastating Southeast Asia tsunami at the end of 2004, peaking–in the U.S.–with the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in September and culminating with the massive earthquake that hit Pakistan in October.
But while these events received extraordinary media coverage, many other unheralded helicopter rescue efforts occurred throughout the year, with a series of often heroic missions performed by rotorcraft crews.
Here, from HAI’s Helicopter Heroes archives, are summaries of some of those less publicized exploits that took place in the last six months.
Feb. 1, 2006, New Zealand
Fallen Climber Plucked from Brink
A climber was airlifted off New Zealand’s Mt. Cook after he fell nearly 300 feet near the summit and suffered severe injuries. His fall was stopped by a snow bank just short of a ledge.
A mountain guide who witnessed the fall alerted authorities, who summoned a New Zealand police helicopter. When it reached the scene the man was unconscious with head and chest injuries and a broken ankle. To safely perform a rescue at the 11,600-foot elevation, the helicopter carried limited fuel and only one rescue worker. The pilot was able to place a skid on the ledge as the rescuer pulled the victim into the helicopter.
He was treated at the Mt. Cook emergency center and later airlifted to a nearby hospital where, despite severe injuries, he was expected to recover. The rescue is believed to be the highest ever to take place in New Zealand.
Jan. 18, 2006, Astoria, Ore.
Tugboat Andy Hauled Ashore
A charter helicopter operated by HAI-member Arctic Air Service rescued a tugboat captain when his boat capsized in the frigid, turbulent waters off the mouth of
the Columbia River.
The helicopter had been transporting harbor pilots when it received a radio call that the tugboat was in need of assistance. The tug had been escorting a barge when it capsized and threw its three crewmembers into the water. Two were able to swim to the barge and were hoisted onto the deck. The captain was face down in the water when the helicopter reached the scene.
The Arctic Air helicopter was equipped with a horse collar harness, which was lowered to the tug crew, who secured the victim into it. He was then hoisted into the helicopter and flown to shore, where a waiting ambulance and medical personnel took him to a nearby hospital.
Jan. 11, 2006, Yonkers, N.Y.
Piper Arrow Falls into Hudson
Helicopters from the Coast Guard and NYPD rescued two New Jersey men after their Piper PA-28 Arrow ditched in the Hudson River off Yonkers, N.Y. The pilot’s pre-ditching mayday call was heard by an airline pilot who relayed it to New York Center. Controllers notified the NYPD and the U.S. Coast Guard, which sent helicopters to the scene.
The men were clinging to wreckage from the ditching and had been in the frigid water for 15 to 20 minutes. Two rescuers wearing dive suits jumped in the water to assist. The men were loaded into rescue baskets, one of which was hauled into the Coast Guard helicopter and the other into the NYPD chopper. They were flown to a local hospital and treated for hypothermia.
Nov. 22, 2005, Hilo, Hawaii
Hook ’Em, Dan-O
Six sailors were rescued off the coast of Hawaii when their commercial fishing boat became disabled in bad weather and high surf. A Hawaii County Fire Department helicopter responded to the emergency beacon. Hovering over the boat, a rescue swimmer dropped into the water to assist the sailors, who were placed by twos in a rescue basket and hoisted into the helicopter. The crewmen were then flown to the Hilo Medical Center, where they were treated for minor injuries.
Nov. 2, 2005, Florida Keys
Coasties Bag a Two-fer
A USCG Air Station Clearwater, Fla. aircrew performed two rescues off the Florida Keys in the wake of Hurricane Wilma. A male victim became stranded when heavy winds broke his sailboat loose at Bird Key and grounded it near Gieger Key. The man used a cellphone to call a friend, who alerted authorities. The crew located and hoisted him into their Sikorsky HH-60 Jayhawk and transferred him to shore.
Meanwhile, a couple were stranded on their sailboat also near Gieger Key after it, too, broke free from its moorings. One occupant remained with the boat while the other, an injured woman, was hoisted into the Jayhawk and flown to an EMS crew waiting ashore. The male sailor sustained hypothermia and the female was treated for non-critical injuries.
Oct. 26, 2005, Jareed, Pakistan
Angel Descends for Hungry Lad
Among the many acts of heroism that arose from the tragedy of the earthquake that devastated Pakistan and parts of India, a Pakistani Army helicopter rescue team was flying over the town of Jareed when the crew spotted a child sitting near a collapsed house. When the helicopter landed to rescue the boy he told the crew he had not eaten for nine days. The rescue crew flew the boy to safety, where he was given food and water.
Sept. 21, 2005, Aleutian Islands
Not Exactly Dolphin Weather
Former Miami Dolphins fullback and NFL Hall of Famer Larry Csonka was one of six people airlifted by helicopter from a stranded boat in the Bering Sea. Csonka and his film crew were returning from an island about 100 miles west of Unalaska after filming a hunting trip for an outdoor sports television show. On their way back to Alaska they encountered bad weather, choppy seas and gale force winds.
Sept. 1, 2005, Arctic Norway
Helo Lifts Polar Bears’ Prey
A helicopter rescued three Polish scientists from a remote Arctic island in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago as polar bears were stalking them. The scientists had left their research ship in a small inflatable boat to pick up supplies from a nearby island about 650 miles from the North Pole. Their boat capsized and they lost all their equipment and weapons.
They were able to swim to shore, but conditions prevented the ship’s crew from sending another small boat for them. The crew used a harpoon cannon to fire a rope to their ship and receive food and water. The researchers were able to start a fire for warmth and to keep the polar bears at bay. When the helicopter finally arrived, at least three of the polar bears were within 20 yards of the men, who were flown to a research base and treated for cuts and bruises.