Date: 29 Feb 2000 21:32:10 -0600
From: "Butch Grafton" <>

What good is a helicopter newsgroup if those who frequent it don't pass on those stories we all have about the craziest things we ever did with out little fling wing buddy? I propose we each post one or two of our favorite "I can't believe I did that" helicopter stories for the reading pleasure of this group.

Here is one of mine...

Crop-dusting with a helicopter sometimes requires that you be very resourceful. One day I was on my way back to the airport to meet my loading truck and get fuel when I realized that I was not going to make it. I just did not have enough gas to get there. Knowing that most good size farmers have their own gas pumps I started looking for one where I might get enough gas to get me to the airport. I spotted a large white wood-frame farm house with a gas pump behind it and landed. I knocked on the door and an elderly woman, probably in her early nineties, answered the door. I asked if she would sell me a couple of gallons of gas so I could get to the airport. She leaned around me and looked at the helicopter sitting in her backyard and said. "Can't sell you any gas BUT, if you will give me a ride around the farm I'll give it to you." As surprised as I was that a woman of her age would even think about flying, much less in a crop-duster's helicopter, I quickly agreed. I pumped the gas and then I helped her into the right seat which had no cushions, only a seat-belt. I strapped her in and off we went. I flew her all around her farm. She was like a kid in a candy store. I could not believe she was enjoying the flight as she was. After she had seen everything she wanted to see I dropped her off and headed for the airport wondering all the way just what her husband was going to say when he came home that evening and she told him a helicopter landed in the backyard and took her flying.


Date: Tue, 29 Feb 2000 23:25:08 -0600
From: "Dan & Jan Hollenbaugh" <>

We had finished up work with our BK-117 in air-to-air combat test III and its aerobatics evaluation, and were about to return it to the contractor. We had a few hours left on the lease, and gave some orientation rides to the engineers in the command. I was managing the joyrides. We got everyone through a series of 20 minute flights, and when the last group returned, I went out to the aircraft to shepherd them away. They departed, and I put on a set of headphones and told the pilot to go shut it down. (I won't mention the pilot's name, since he's still active.) He said, "Can I go do some loops and rolls?" Now, we were contractually prohibited from aerobatics without a contractor test pilot onboard, and it was my job to enforce the rules, but I was young and stupid, so my reply was, "Only if you take me with you - I don't want to have to be here on the ground explaining how you died." He motioned to the copilot's seat.

We departed the field, got it up to about 4000 ft AGL in our practice area, at about 120 knots (cruise is 135). I was sitting there, fat dumb and happy, looking around, when something hit the inside of my left thigh. Looking down, I found the cyclic stick against my leg. Looking up, I found the green land above me and the blue sky below me. Imagine my surprise........ The pilot pulled aft cyclic, and we went nose down,

straight towards the ground. At about 2500 feet, the ground was getting large really fast, and we felt a strong rotor vibration feeding into the cockpit. The pilot casually noted, "That's the retreating blade stall they told us about."

He pulled it through and recovered, and we climbed back to 4000 feet and did 4 more split S, totally illegal, against all contract requirements, my job on the line with each one. After the 5th, I looked around and found that every low-flying aircraft in the area was watching us. There was a CH-46 from the nearby Naval air station hovering nearby, a Cessna 150 from the flying club, a UH-1 and a CH-47 from the maintenance pilot school pointed our way..... Imagining the conversations between these spectators and our controlling airfield, I pointed out our audience to the pilot, and we agreed it was time to quit. We took it home and shut it down, and he ferried it back to the manufacturer a few days later.

Not too exciting, I know (after all, no one was shooting at us), but a bit much at the time. If this thread gets real boring, ask Nick to tell you about the time he demonstrated the LHX spec maneuvers to my boss and me in the AUH-76 prototype over NWS Yorktown.

Dan H.


Date: Wed, 01 Mar 2000 05:45:24 GMT
From: "Matthew" <>

I can't believe I'm telling everybody this one.

When I started my helicopter training the Gentex SPH-5CF helmets didn't quite fit me. I used an older style helmet for some time, getting used to the fit of me in the cockpit, with the older helmet. After about one year, I was squeezed into a Gentex HGU-56/P helmet. Fit well, noise level reduced, lighter helmet, and a bit bigger.

On one of my first missions with the new helmet, we stopped for fuel at a small base. After startup, I wanted to check that the fuel hoses were out of the way and the fuel caps installed so I stuck my head out the window and took a look behind. Turns out the new helmet only barely fits through the window so my helmet got stuck outside the window. I heard the flight engineer scrambling for his camcorder, so I disconnected the chin strap, pulled my head in, the helmet fell to the ground, and just then I noticed the spectators.

Of course, the jokes don't stop there. After I ditched a helicopter, the unofficial squadron cartoonist came up with two good ones. The first had our helicopter sinking in the background, the five crew members floating away in my helmet, with one of them promising never to make fun of my head again. The second was similiar except we were sitting in the 10-man liferaft, using my helmet as a paddle, with one of the crewmembers water skiing behind the liferaft.

I can't believe I volunteered this information.



Date: Wed, 01 Mar 2000 15:09:16 GMT


A flight school buddy named Strickland had to put his H-13E down near Strawn, Texas during a night cross country (yea, like you can go cross country at 60 knots with 1.5 hours of gas anyway!). He was low enough on gas, of course.

He walked to the farmer's house, called the post operator at Wolters, and settled in for the call back. After a piece of pie and a glass of milk, he fell asleep. By 2 am the farmer offered to drive him back to post, so he went. Fell asleep in the truck, woke at the barracks, thanked the farmer and climbed into the rack.

The MP's woke him at first light and asked for their helicopter back. Of course, poor Strickland had no farmer name, no address, and couldn't even name the town! Next stop for him was CID, (Criminal Investigation Division, the humorly-challenged guys).

Meanwhile, the farmer was calling every day to get the damned helicopter off his field so he could get his crops in!

By the third day, they found the original post operator notes, all was forgiven, and Strickland was back in the platoon.

Nick Lappos


Date: Thu, 2 Mar 2000 16:11:08 -0600
From: "Dan & Jan Hollenbaugh" <>

About 1983 or so, we were working on the maneuverability/agility specs for LHX (now Comanche). As a portion of the spec, the army was developing a set of "spec maneuvers" to be completed in a set period of time. The idea was, if the aircraft could do each of these maneuvers in the specified amount of time, it would have enough power, control power, etc, to do air-to-air, rapid NOE, etc.

Nick was working on this area for Sikorsky. He happened to be at Ft. Eustis on a tour with the S-76 variant Sikorsky was hoping to sell to foreign governments as a cheap attack helicopter. By way of demonstrating what might be achievable in some of the maneuvers, he took my boss (the late Duane Simon) and I up for a ride. Duane was in the copilot seat, I was all the way in the back with a stopwatch for timing.

One of the maneuvers under consideration for addition to the spec was sort of an open field crossing. The idea was to approach an open clearing just above treetop level, drop into it to go across, then raise to clear the trees on the other side. Nick wanted to demonstrate this maneuver in the S-76 at two airspeeds - IIRC 80 and 160 kts. We were about 2000 ft above the Virginia peninsula when Nick descended for the first pass. Treetop at 80, drop into the clearing (a farm field), cross, pull back up, continue the march. No sweat. We went back up to about 2000, talked about it for a minute, then dropped down for the 160 kt version. Across the treetops at 160, hit the clearing, drop hard to about 10 ft agl. At about this moment, we all noticed a hardened storage bunker just off the nose. Right in front of it was a pickup truck with a bunch of sailors around it. We had dropped without invitation into the middle of the US Navy's Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, the storage point for all of the Atlantic Fleet's nuclear weapons. Imagine the surprise of those sailors on a work detail, turning towards a noise and seeing an all-black helicopter screaming towards them. Nick adjusted course so as not to scare them too much, and we were quickly out of the field and away.

We returned to Ft. Eustis, wondering if they'd had a chance to read the N-number off the aircraft. I don't know if they did or not, but when Nick called in his approach to Felker AAF at Eustis, the tower replied with landing instructions, followed by a terse, "Pilot report immediately to flight operations after shutdown." I'm sure that was an amusing conversation.......


Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 09:28:47 +1100
From: "John Eacott" <>

Not a helicopter story, but associated with helicopter operations, this reminds me (!) of the time we were in harbour aboard HMS Eagle, one of the RN's CVA's. As always on the first night ashore we had a cocktail party on the flight deck for local dignitaries and spare tottie (Richard, that's navy for crumpet, or to be non PC, good looking young ladies), with a good time being had by one and all. Toward the end of the evening, the mood changed wonderfully when the tannoy broadcast (in a broad Yorkshire accent)

"Would the rating holding the key to the nuclear bomb store, please return the same immediately"

It is the policy of the Royal Navy neither to confirm nor deny the carriage of nuclear weapons, etc. etc.

John Eacott
The Helicopter Service Australia

Date: 1 Mar 2000 20:28:09 -0600
From: "Butch Grafton" <>

Feel free to print anything I submit. I have a few more really good ones which I will post in due time but for now I will leave you with this one.

While flying from Memphis to Little Rock, following I-40, in my trusty little Hughes 300 C I spied a fellow hitchhiking and figured what the heck. I landed 30 or so feet from him, motioned him over, offered him a ride which he cautiously accepted and off we went. I dropped the guy off on I-40 just outside of Little Rock and continued on to the airport. I often wonder about how many people this guy has managed to convince that he was actually picked up by a helicopter while hitchhiking on the interstate?

Butch Grafton


Date: Thu, 2 Mar 2000 15:46:48 +1100
From: "John Eacott" <>

Back when there was no Channel Patrol (England was still joined to the Continent....)

During AFT (Advanced Flying Training) we often did wet & dry winch exercises in the Wessex HAS3, using other students as winch weights. On one occasion I was being winched by Dave Warren, with Mike Lehan as instructor, when they started to pay out the cable and move off to port. When the cable was out at max., Dave reefed in full Tq and I was looking at either side of the helicopter whilst swinging in wild arcs. Never talk to me about bungy jumping.

Our SAR flight at RNAS Culdrose would take squadron joes out for 6 monthly winch refreshers, dropping them in the bay amongst the basking sharks while they did a circuit or two before commencing winching. Often the aircrew in the water would be quite happy coming out of the water, only to have a bucket or two of salt water thrown out of the cabin into their face. Funny sense of humour some people have.

Then there was the time I was being taught to use a Sproule net by a crusty old CPO, solo (as a Midshipman..) in a Whirlwind. We managed to keep the front wheels out of the water, but the Irish accent giving the patter "Your height line & speed are good; line good, come up; come up; me bloody feet are getting wet, will you bloody well come _up_! Sir (very much as an afterthought)."

And the crewman of the Steel Vendor aground on a reef in the South China Sea, lining up to be winched off during a typhoon, more upset that our crewman was throwing their duty free rabbits (stereos, ciggies, booze, etc.) over the side before they could be winched, than upset with their predicament.

Flying the Dauphin for the Victoria Police, we were out for 10 days hunting some unpleasant prison escapees. Looking around some hilly terrain, I was flying some very senior officers, who wanted to check out the choke points. Needless to say, at one point we came screaming around a corner to find both coppers out of the car, channel 10 cranked up at full volume, banging away with their pistols at the local bunnies. I think my looker and I were the only ones who found that one funny!

Operating to oil platforms off Nigeria was not the best of jobs, and the routine was lightened a little by a bit of low flying down the beaches. The local villages were quite happy to swap a bucket of Jet A1 for a bucket of seafood, and were generally cheerful about the odd "low pass" at them when they were out gathering firewood. Even when the low pass was over a canoe, and the guy paddling started leaning so far over that he fell overboard. Two days later he'd learnt to just sit there with the paddle held upright, smart fellow!

Enough for now,

John Eacott
The Helicopter Service Australia


Date: Thu, 02 Mar 2000 22:02:37 GMT
From: "Richard" <>

I used to think that English was spoken in Australia, but after reading numerous posts by John (all excellent by the way) I have come to realize that the wonderful education system in the United States has let me down.

If it is English, how come I can to understand it.


Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2000 10:27:23 -0800
From: "gnolan" <gnolan@//>

haven't read this one yet so here goes ---

didn't happen to me but, heard it from a passenger who heard it from the original pilot.

early in the summer in the canadian rockies, a couple of university summer students were dropped off on the top of a mountain to service some radios or something along that line, for the day.

the pilot, realising these guys were fairly green, asked them what protection they had against bears, they said they had bear spray (which is actually mace or pepper spray)

after dropping them off, the pilot lifted off and did (like all good pilots) a circle around the drop off area to make sure all was well with the passengers, and noticed these guys rolling around on the ground.

he landed back again to see if anything was the matter.

it turns out these guys had thought you use bear spray in the same manner as mosquitoe repellant, and had just "protected" each other


Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 03:00:35 GMT
From: "Mike" <>

In 1990, flew from Okinawa to the Philippines. Flight of two CH-53D's, mine being a slick D (no external fuel tanks). We took off at about 52,000 pounds gross with six internal fuel tanks (max. 42,000) and used most of the runway to lift off. Pretty uneventful flight until equidistant between Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines where we hit an unanticipated squall line. We decided to try to make it under and had some interesting moments with waves cresting level with the cockpit. After 20 minutes of "I am going to die" we broke out to find that our wingman had move from aft starboard to forward port sometime during the fun.

We landed for fuel at a little island north of the Philippines. After refueling, we took off and at 150' and 130 knots I sat on the crewchiefs armrest and leaned against the crewdoor. Must have gotten the cable stuck in the latch since the door popped open with me following it. The slipstream caught me and sent me aft but I managed to catch the door rib as I went by and my gunner's belt kept my legs inside the aircraft. Damndest thing was that my ICS stayed connected. The cord can pop off of your helmet if you turn your head but stays intact at 130! I heard the pilot and co-pilot asking me what that loud bang was (the sound of the crew door and my face hitting the side of the helicopter.) I tried to reach my ICS control to tell them to slow down but couldn't bring my arm in all the way. Finally, dash two calls and says "you guys are gonna have to slow down so Wolfie can get back in." That's about the time the "Holy shit's" started flying through the cockpit.

Once we slowed down to about 70 knots I was able to pull myself back in. Then I was faced with the task of reaching back out and pulling in the crew door that was hanging straight down. The pilot asked me if I wanted to turn around and land to close the door, but I said "No, I'll close it but I really have to pee first."



Date: Wed, 1 Mar 2000 21:39:55 -0500
From: "Helimech" <>

Back in the mid 70's I got a job as a mechanic at a service center in Pennsylvania. I had been working at PHI for about four years and felt pretty sure of myself. The fourth day of this new job I was working on a Bell 47G changing the points on the right mag. The engine shop lead was on the other side and had already changed the points on the left mag and was proceeding to time the mag. He asked me to lean across and put my finger over the removed #1 spark plug hole while he tapped the starter and I was to tell him when the # 1 piston came up on the compression stroke. I told him my mag was hot due to the fact that the p-lead was off and he explained how hard this particular 47 was to start and not to worry. Well you can guess what happened as I was leaning through the engine/ tailboom framework with my finger stuck in the plug hole. First tap and that bitch lights off blowing my finger off the hole. Well the throttle must have been about half opened and that engine starts to scream and the centrifugal clutch catches and the blades take off (no tie down). Well I've got my arms so tight to my body they were almost flush just knowing their going to get cut off by something and I watch as the blades pick up speed and complete almost half a revolution. I can see that they are either going to hit a forklift or the vertical tail of a brand new factory fresh 206L that was still in primer yellow paint. Well the 206L won, or lost depending how you look at it, by a hair and the 47 blade smashes into it and bends the vertical fin over about two feet from the top. There the blade gets hung up the 47 starts to bounce up and down like its having a fit. All this time the engine guy's in the cockpit moving everything he can think of to shut it down. Another mech. races over, reaches over this guy and shuts the fuel off. Well there was this big meeting over it and I get blamed for leaving the mag hot (when in doubt blame the new guy.) The real pisser is when we finally get the 47 back airworthy and push it outside for a test run the thing takes forever to start. Still makes me laugh thinking about that brand new vertical fin buckling over. Good stuff. JC


Date: 02 Mar 2000 08:25:13 GMT
From: (JIM105)

Back in the mid-80s, I was bringing an Enstrom from the factory in Michigan to the San Francisco area. Somewhere over WY I'm flying along interstate 80 and look down at the traffic, low and behold there is an Enstrom on a trailer! Now we all know there aren't that many Enstroms around to begin with and to see one in the middle of nowhere was just more of a coincidence then I could believe. I flew down to freeway level to get the drivers attention, went up ahead about a mile and landed next to the freeway. He came up and pulled off and we had a great chat. Turns out he picked up the machine in NY and was headed to WA with it. Gerard might remember it, it was an ENG ship with a LeRoy Neeman original paint scheme on it. IIRC it was a tiger on the entire fusalage. We took off, and when I got back to Oakland I heard that the guy caught the mast in a low overpass, splatted the transmission out of the machine and sent pieces all over the freeway. I would hazard a guess that the paint scheme was worth much more then the helicopter.



Date: 07 Mar 2000 01:12:42 GMT
From: (Micbloo)

Small world syndrome strikes again.

The ship indeed had a multi-colored tiger painted on the cabin with Neimans signature. On the tail boom was the Chevrolet logo and at the end the name of the station "WNBC" and underneath Radio66. Used for traffic reporting. I think it was one of several Enstroms owned by Spectrum Helicopters and used by NBC for traffic reporting in the late 70s. Eventually one had a fatal on air crash killing the reporter on board. Seems like Spectrum had a very shady reputation in regards to maintenance.

I have two pictures of that ship in front of me now and will send them to "Helispot" with my next set of pictures.

What a shame. I wonder if he rebuilt the copter or just kept the cabin with the picture. You're right. Probably worth more than the copter.

But thanks for that story. I always wondered what happened to that aircraft.



Date: 02 Mar 2000 09:50:52 GMT
From: (CdrKing)

I was flying tours in a Hughs 500 in Hawaii. We flew a 42 min tour that included the top of the Volcano. The top part was the inactive portion. We flew down a chain of caters and then to the active vent. The lady sitting next to me was very nice, we were having a good time talking. I then noticed at about 15 minutes into the tour she starting sweating. She then was turning a little white. I always tried my best to fly smooth and not cause any internal eruptions. Sometimes though the smoke from the volcano and the heat in Hawaii can and will get the best of them. She then started to slump down in the seat. I knew she really was about to blow when her sunglasses fell down in the middle of her face and she didn't correct them. I again did everything in my power to help her, e.g., fresh air, told everyone not to move their heads around if they were getting sick, eyes on the horizon, etc.

But I really knew it was getting close when the headset she was wearing, rotated about 90 degrees and was now partially covering her nose and one eye. Again she did nothing to correct it.

I was about finished with the tour and knew I was running on borrowed time. I of briefed everyone on the location of the "Aloha" bags. Some people just get embarrassed when they get sick so the hesitate to go for the bag.

I was pulling a much pitch as I could to get home quickly. Right as I hit the pad I went to flat pitch, reached up above her head and got the bag out. I popped it out of the blue cover and opened it.

Right as she got it to her mouth she erupted with all the might she could muster. I thought she was going to blow the bottom out.

We got out of the aircraft and I always made it a point to ask if they are ok.

She then asked me how I knew she was sick.

A few more like that but I don't want to get too vivid.



Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 02:36:40 GMT
From: "Mike" <>

We picked up a stick of Korean Marines (in Korea no less) as a flight of two CH-53D's and had to fly them about 20 miles to an LZ. The weather was a little crappy and we were doing some scud running. A few minutes into the flight, a couple of the ROK Marines start puking and within the next 5 minutes we have about 10 other sympathy pukers. It was apparent that all of the opposite direction eaters had recently consumed Kimchee (a spicy, garlicky, fermented cabbage dish). To this day, I can smell Kimchee on a person from at least 20 feet away.



Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 02:28:51 GMT
From: "Mike" <>

Ah, mechanic stories! Let me tell you about my first major repair as an inspector in the Corps on CH-53's. I was grounded with an injury so was working night crew and we were tasked to put the squadron "canni queen" back together before we had to file a report to headquarters stating that unavailability of parts was forcing us to cannibalize the helicopter. So we took one perfectly good helicopter and ripped two engines, the main gear box, swashplate, main rotor head and tail rotor head and put it on the carcass of the hanger queen. After 14 hours of work at around 5:30 AM, I went to maintenance control and informed them that we were tired and that we wanted to leave hooking up the primary servos and flight control rig to daycrew to finish. Maintenance control said we had to finish and sent me back out.

So....we're hooking up hydraulic power and I tell "Freddie" (not the sharpest knife in the drawer) to climb off of the bird and stay out of the way. He states that he's never seen this before and wants to watch. So I let him stay up top and tell him to keep clear of everything. I put a Marine on each servo to control the linkage, we bring hydraulic power up and everyone lowers their servos and the swashplate on my call. Suddenly Freddie starts screaming (foot stuck under swashplate). The Marine controlling the lateral servo (appropriately nicknamed Goofy) panics and lets go of the servo to attend to Freddie. The lateral servo drives straight up and destroys the swashplate, lower pressure plate and main rotor head. At this point I head into maintenance control to tell the controller to get the duty officer on the phone as well as the flight surgeon so we could all take our piss tests.

Damage topped off at a little over $100,000 all because I didn't have the balls to stick by my guns and call it a day. Last time that ever happened....



Date: Thu, 2 Mar 2000 09:41:26 -0600<
From: "Meshnet" <>

This didn't happen to me, but I heard it from the guy it did happen to, while he was under oath.

In 1978, a fellow from the Indianapolis area who had been flying various aircraft since WWII decided he wanted to take up RW flying and open an air taxi service. He bought a Bell 47J fresh out of overhaul from my clients in Memphis and flew it cross-country up to Indiana, where he operated it a few months. Some scheduled maintenance on the rotorhead came and went, with the logbook being posted up properly, except that the A&P who was supposed to have done the work could never be found. Seems the signature and number were illegible.

Our hero was returning to his suburban airport with a passenger in one of the back seats, and as he lowered collective after touchdown, the main rotor hub just slid down the mast and the helicopter shook itself to pieces around pilot and passenger, leaving them sitting on the ground amid a pile of trash, for all the world like the Keystone Kops after their Model T disintegrated under them. Our hero sued the overhauler and broker, swearing that "the Jesus Nut was installed upside down", a theory he clung to until the eve of trial, when he had to hire an expert who, quite correctly, said that "someone" had installed the split cones upside down. (Heck, I spotted that immediately, and I was just an ex-Army pilot with a law license.)

The jury was out about 30 minutes, including time to elect a foreman and have lunch, before pouring our hero out without a penny. Sometimes justice gets done.


Date: Thu, 2 Mar 2000 13:16:06 -0800
From: "CJ" <>

In 1981, I was a crewman on a Hughes 500D fighting fire for the Bureau of Land Management in the Mojave desert. We'd just finished up a streak of over 40 days without a day off and one payday, two of the seven of us were getting a day off - including me. Well, everyone but the foreman went on a payday rager, and got back to the barracks - loudly - around 3:00 a.m.

The foreman was not happy that his sleep was disturbed, and scheduled a recon flight the next day for the three loudest offenders (reconning nothing, of course, as the last lightening strikes were over a week old). His instructions to the pilot: do not return until all three had thrown up. The pilot was happy to honor the request. Also, our rule for anyone who threw-up on the helicopter was that they had to clean the mess off of the ship.

It sure was shiny the next day!


Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 01:01:46 GMT

One of my favorites was while flying 206 in SoAfrica in the early 70's.Big deal about flying traffic watch...local celebs invited to the Britston Tower in Jo'berg for a photo session. I landed in a tight spot at the base of the tower, they took lots of photos with everyone but me (after all I was just the pilot) and then they went up to the revolving restaurant at the top. I was to fly around the tower while they took photos of the helicopter and Johannesburg in the background. So, I dutifully flew up and around the tower, circled slowly while they shot their photos and then I got slower and slower until the tower was revolving faster than me. I heard later they thought the tower was having a malfunction and the boss was not real happy with me. Please don't get me started on the crop dusting stories because only us ag pilots will ever believe them!!



Date: 2 Mar 2000 19:54:59 -0600
From: "Butch Grafton" <>

OK Guys here's another one.

I was to deliver Santa Clause to a local shopping center in Memphis. Ole Santa shows up at the prescribed time and he truly fits the bill. This Santa is 300 plus pounds and it is all him.... no pillows under this Santa suit. This guy is so big the seatbelt won't go around him. Well I manage to get him loaded and off we wobble to the shopping center.

On arrival I see hundreds upon hundreds of kids and parents anxiously awaiting Ole Saint Nick. As I circle the area looking for away in I see that there is only one....right down a drainage ditch with parking lot lights lining both sides and it required a ninety degree left turn right at the bottom between light poles to make the parking lot. So, down I went slowing as I descended preparing to make that ninety degree turn at the bottom. I soon realized I was fast running out of left cyclic. It reached a point that I had to go around because we were rolling right and I was having trouble stopping it. I grabbed Santa and told him to move over as close to me as he could get and I slid my butt up against the collective so tight I could barely move it. At last the CG shifted, I gained control and we wobbled out of there by the barest of margins.

Now Santa is terrified and I ain't feeling too good about it either but I have got to complete the job. So, with 300 pound Mr. Clause damn near sitting in my lap, with no seat belt on we make a second attempt. This time I got the thing on the ground but Santa, terrified as he was, leapt out of the aircraft and fell flat on his face. Now he is both terrified and embarassed so to hide this he jumps up and starts jumping up and down and waving his arms over his head, under the rotor system, at the crowd. All the while he is moving closer to the tail rotor. I am in the cockpit screaming at the top of my lungs, knowing he can't hear me as he inches ever closer to that spinning tail rotor. I guess the security guards heard me or either they sensed impeding death and two of them ran out of the crowd and grabbed this guy just in time and led him into the crowd awaiting his glorious arrival. All the while I am sitting there seeing the next days headline "Butch Grafton kills Santa Clause". Damn was I glad to get out of that one in one piece.



Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 05:15:49 GMT
From: interweb <>

Well as a lurker for a couple of months I'll add my two stories.

About 30 years ago when I was 18 and enjoying my adventure in the Yukon territory I worked for a TV and radio station.

CKRW was the radio station new on the air and the first commercial station up there...... Easter comes along and as a promotion the station decided to do the Easter egg hunt complete with the easter bunny flying in compliments of TNTA (anyone ever fly for them?).

Now the Yukon is generally regarded as being cold but that year by Easter the snow was gone and the grass was starting to grow.

Not knowing what to expect the radio station and pilot of the jetranger where a little surprised to find about four thousand people waiting for the Easter bunny. The location was the local high school's track and field area - dry as a bone and thousands of kids spread all over it - many unattended by adults and just a few people from the station doing the crowd control thing.

I was in the helicopter with the bunny and the pilot was freaking out.

What he did was come in fairly low and slow and move to one end of the field and like the Pied Piper everyone followed him - then when he had a chance he scooted down to the other end set the machine down we boofed out the bunny and got out of there as fast as we could.

What a sight from the air.

A few years later in Fort McMurray I owned a camera store in a brand new mall. Fort Mac was coming off a boom cycle and produces oil from tarsand (interesting process).

A local newspaper had come up with the idea for the first anniversary of the mall which entailed dropping 10,000 ping pong balls from a helicopter in the parking lot while people below scrambled for the balls.

They were different colors and represented different values of discounts with one being worth 50 percent on any one item in the mall no matter what it was.

Now a friend of mine and his wife had to find a cheap source of ping pong balls which is another story and I remember visiting them one nite when they literally had them laying around their living room being color coded with dye in these washing tubs and then being stuffed into garbage bags. The friends wife got to go in the helicopter and dump the balls at the appointed time.

Me and my buddy got on the roof of the mall on this beautifull crisp March Sunday - the lot had been cleared of cars and there were thousands standing in the parking lot waiting for the ping pong balls to drop.

What a sight it was to watch the balls drop with the rotor wash hit the ground and roll all over the place with thousands of people scrambling to pick them up.

In ten minutes it was all over.

By the way the lady who caught the 50 percent ball took it to the large department store (THE BAY) and bought a pair of pantyhose. The store manager told her the ball could be used by anyone for a large ticket item and they could save 50 percent but she said no thanks. She was going to a house party that night and needed a pair of pantyhose so she used the ball to get 50 percent off.... Go Figure.


Date: 3 Mar 2000 01:14:45 -0600
From: "Butch Grafton" <>

You remind me of another good story. A shopping center in West Memphis Arkansas decided to do a ping pong ball drop with numbered ping pong balls. Each number was related to a particular prize with the top prize being $1000.00 cash. I was tasked with the job of dropping the balls from my trusty Hughes 300.

They brought me the ping pong balls in large trash bags. I climbed in and had them stuff all the bags in as best they could, It was still winter so I had the doors on which helped hold the bags in but they were stacked to the top of the cockpit and I barely had room to move the controls. Fortunately it was only a short flight to the shopping center.

When I arrived at the shopping center I could see several thousand people gathered below waiting anxiously for the balls to drop. It was a blustery winter day so I had to first figure out the best place to drop them allowing for the winds and second how to get them out of the aircraft with the doors on and me flying by myself. I decided to open my door as best I could and hold it open with my left foot while I pulled the bags open one at a time and poured them out all the while trying to fly with my knees and keep the aircraft over a reasonable drop zone without my feet on the pedals or hands on the controls in a strong wind.

Well needless to say each bag of balls ended up in a completely different area. I still can see that swarm of people racing across the parking lot, which was filled with parked cars, to get to the ping pong balls which the wind was scattering everywhere. Since I could only drop one bag at a time each drop would end up in an entirely different place and with each successive drop the tide would turn and the race to the new drop area was on. People were climbing over cars, pushing each other down, tripping, falling and anything else you can think of as they raced back and forth across that parking lot. I have no idea how successful the promotion was but I do know there were a lot of skinned knees and scratched paint jobs before it was all over. I never accepted another ping pong ball drop job.



Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 08:24:13 GMT
From: interweb <>

I'm surprised nobody has recounted the famous story from years gone by about the mall promotion to drop live turkeys from a helicopter only to discover the hard way that turkeys can't fly.

Some in this group may recall the very funny skit on the TV program WKRP in Cincinatti with Les the newscaster covering the remote and describing the carnage.

Kinda reminds me of a story in Flying many years ago about a group of pilots who were dropping live cats out of planes - no parachutes. Flying wrote a story about how the cats always landed on their feet and lived to fly again. The next month their editorial was about how this story generated more mail than any other story in their history.

Mostly negative.

As I recall the cats lived through the ordeal and I can't recall how high the planes were but many hundreds of feet.



Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 01:01:35 -0600
From: "Dan & Jan Hollenbaugh" <>

Another Santa story, not so funny:

The Mini-500 crowd reveres the late Allen Barklage of St. Louis. I won't pass judgement on him, his abilities, his judgement, his courage, or his choice of aircraft. I'll just tell this one story.

Christmas 1993. I'm living in south St. Louis. My daughter is 18 months old, we hear that Santa will be coming into the shopping center around the corner by helo. We bundle our little angel up and take her to see him come in. We show up before the appointed time, find a place to stand where we aren't too crushed. Looking around as we wait, I don't see any place large enough for a helicopter to land. The shopping center is in a valley, with light poles spaced very close together. At the scheduled time, Barklage comes in in a Bell 206. My eyeball estimation was right. He comes down the hill on one side into the valley, and comes to a hover between 4 light poles. Surrounded by children, he descends vertically into a square formed by those 4 light poles, with less than 8 feet clearance in any direction.

Watching this, I edge my family back, looking for a car to push them behind if anything goes wrong. Approach and departure well inside the deadman's curve. Actual landing well below clearance minimums. One engine hiccup, one gust, and this guy would have been throwing pieces of his disintegrating aircraft into the crowd. The landing goes off safely, Santa disembarks, and Allen climbs vertically above the poles then climbs out up the hill on the other side of the valley. He got away with it. This is my memory of Allen Barklage...

Dan H.


Date: Fri, 3 Mar 2000 21:10:44 +1100

From: "John Eacott" <>

While we're on Santa stories, years ago I took my son (4 years old) with me across town for a Santa drop. After the task, we set off home, with a sweetie drop (that's candy for the Strine challenged) back at our footie club Christmas party. Decided to drop into the party, and after shut down we were surrounded by local kids. Not to look at the helicopter (boring, John's home again) but to gawk at the 4 year old who was still fast asleep in the front seat.


Date: Sat, 04 Mar 2000 14:03:24 GMT
From: John Bicker <>

In a large flat continent with very straight railway tracks I was stumbling along in a 205A-1 with a paint job that resembled a certain countries military aircraft of a similar shape. Even had the white bunny on the nose. IYKWIM. Was following the railway tracks which disappeared over the horizon at about 100'. At the point where the tracks met the horizon a light became apparent. Hmmm I've got a couple of those too, have a look at this. 20 minutes go by without paying much attention and it becomes apparent that the owner of the other light has STOPPED! Guess he was trying to figure out how we were going to pass considering there was only one set of tracks. Climbed to a higher level (about 4000') from memory and let the military catch the grief.


Date: Sun, 05 Mar 2000 01:25:17 GMT

Back in the 60's I was flying down the Mississipi at low altitude for whatever stupid reason, and I saw a big barge being pushed up the river. So, I went up to about 100', turned on my lights and kicked pedals right to left, then shut off the lights. Every light on that boat came on with lights going back and forth on the river. I can imagine the helmsman or whoever saying...."Damn if its that high how wide is he?"



Date: Mon, 6 Mar 2000 20:06:38 -0500
From: "C Morrice" <>

How about the old time helicopter pilot who had been flying the same surveyors for several weeks when they, as they cruised along, said "Why don't we do something real scary"

The old timer just kept flying along for a bit and then said:

"I already am"



Date: 07 Mar 2000 01:01:53 GMT
From: (Micbloo)

This happened well over 20 years ago on Long Island.

A Enstrom F-28C had just dropped off Santa at a local shopping mall in front of 500 kids. Seconds later the copter departed the LZ with the pilot and two passengers aboard. About 75 feet into the air the engine just died. The copter crashed into a driveway between two houses. The three on board suffered only cuts and bruises. But the pilot remarked to one of the first rescuers on scene that he was "lucky to get away from the crowd" before they crashed. Santa remarked that next year "he'll arrive on roller skates".



Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 09:39:45 GMT
From: "Matthew" <>

Hmmm..Santa Claus...that brings another one to mind.

This didn't happen to me, but it's a good helicopter story.

The local Santa Claus was invited to make a fly-in appearance at a shopping mall. It turns out this Santa had a prior engagement where alcohol was served. Judgment was affected.

Helicopter lands, kids come running, Santa jumps out. More kids. Santa throws handfulls of small candy canes for the kids. The candy canes hit the rotor blades shatter and small pieces of candy cane are spraying the crowd.

Everyone is yelling at Santa to stop. Santa's too loaded to notice, throws another handful of candy canes into the rotor blades. Crew wrestles Santa into the helicopter and quickly depart.



Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 18:21:40 GMT

Annual Santa visit at the local small town school, Santa half in the bag I think, he is waving at the kids as we circled the playground, and all of a sudden he starts to holler, "My Watch MY WATCH JUST FLEW OFF". Never did find it!!


Date: 03 Mar 2000 19:59:21 GMT
From: (Stephen Austin)

I guess Santa drops are a part of every civilian helicopter pilot's duties at one time or another (and probably some military guys).

I did a Santa drop one time in Branson, Missouri, the big country music place. I was told to pick up Santa and his elf (a midget woman) at Point Lookout airport. I was flying an Enstrom 280C and I figured hey, how much can Santa, a midget woman, and myself weigh anyway? Couldn't be much.

So I get to PLK and put on fuel while I'm waiting. I no sooner get done than up walks Santa, all six feet five inches, three hundred fifty pounds of him. The midget woman who was with him didn't look too heavy but I found out otherwise when I helped her into the cabin.

I fired the helicopter up and pulled it to a hover. Hehe, not a real good hover either. One of those overboost warning light glaring, manifold pressure red-lined and RPM still bleeding hovers. But a hover nonetheless. Point Lookout airport is built onto the top of a large hill so I just pushed it off the drop-off and got ELT ASAP. With the low density altitude (it was Christmas after all, and quite cold) and ELT acheived it wasn't too bad. I knew the landing at the mall was gonna be a bear though.

I decided that since I had just fueled the aircraft it would be better to do some fly-by's to try to burn some fuel off before the approach. I was early anyway. So I started flying up and down Country Music Blvd. in Branson at about three hundred feet telling Santa "wave, dammit". Man, that cockpit was crowded. Santa had one cheek hanging off the edge of the right seat and was against the door. I had to tell him not to lean against it because it might come open. He loved that. At the same time I was practically sitting on the collective to my left and getting mashed by a midget woman in the middle. It was the first and last time that I had the fortune to get mashed by a midget lady. Anyway I did that for a while and then I knew it was time to set it down.

The LZ was not real good, there was only one way in and out. Luckily no tailwind. I knew that I didn't have to take back off with Santa and helper again, they were staying on the ground. So I knew once I landed I was okay. Getting out alone would be cake. The approach was the same as the departure. Power red-lined and RPM hanging by a string. Engine problems near the end of the steep approach I was having to make would have been real ugly. But I made it down without incident. And after Santa got his big ass off (and the midget lady got her little one off) the helicopter climbed like a homesick angel. I always loved doing Santa drops and stuff like that. It's kinda cheesy but I've always had fun.

Stephen Austin
Austin Ag Aviation
Charleston, Missouri

Date: 05 Mar 2000 18:15:00 GMT
From: (Airbasher)

Playing copilot with friend on a Santa OPS in a 206B we were doing a High Recon of the intended area LZ. ( We drove there the day before and gave it a good eyeballing before we flew in) Santa was a cookie under 350lbs and a little nervous as was his helper, both never had been in a helicopter before.

Our first pass was fine, Santa asked if it was all right if he stuck his hand out and waved a little. That was just fine with us. As we made the second pass we had a bird strike, the guts went all over Santa's hand. (No injury to Santa) He looked at now gross looking bird entrails on his hand and got sick as did his helper. At 500 in our approach with the cross wind headed towards the crowd, both passengers begin to show the crowd the workings of the human digestive system, backwards. Liquid and chunks blew from the rear window vents. At first we didn't know what was going on, just a weird sound over the intercom. Then Santa starts screaming "abort abort" with a mouth full. Well, we did a go around, not knowing if he had seen something we had not or something went wrong in the back.

A crowd of kids, a shopping mall and a bunch of cars were in close proximity to us so the pucker factor went up a little hearing Jolly old Nick freak out.

Nothing was wrong, he just didn't want to be let out into a now disgusted mob... I mean.. crowd that he had just hurled his lunch on. We were responsible for cleaning the bird guts and his body fluids from the aircraft and that was going to be no fun, so he wasn't given a choice. We landed, Santa faced his puke soaked fans and we left.


Date: Wed, 08 Mar 2000 08:51:31 +0200
From: Hennie <>

I heard the following story but do not know if it is the truth or not.

The pilot was flying a Hughes 300 herding game somewhere in South Africa. They were moving from one area to another and the pilot apparently being bored began doing low passes over the recovery vehicle trying to frighten the occupants. On one of these passes from the back of the pickup he got to low and the one skid entered through the back window of the pickup and did the can opener trick. What happened next is not clear but the pilot ended up sitting in his seat with nothing left around him a hundred yards or so down the road with parts of the 300 all over the place. He loosened his safety belt got off the seat and walked to the instrument panel lying a few yards away and switched off the master!!!!!!



Date: 08 Mar 2000 23:53:45 GMT
From: (Bob Barbanes)

Santa drops...who was it that said we've all done 'em? When I worked at Island Helicopters in N.Y. we used to do them every year. No scare or drunken Santa or puke stories, thank goodness. The only time I did it was a multiple-Santa drop in area shopping malls one particular Sunday. To do it in the most efficient manner, I picked them all up at once. In a 206L I picked up five, yes FIVE Santas at a local airport and proceded to the sites. I could only imagine what the confused youngsters were thinking as we landed and they saw "Santa" jump out of the helicopter with the other four Santas waving from the ship as we departed. The looks on their faces (the ones I could see, anyway) were priceless.

Puke stories...we've probably all got them too...or will eventually. My best one was one day when I was doing sightseeing rides from the 34th Street Heliport in NYC, again, with Island. This particular day we'd shut down Ops (which we almost never did) due to REALLY gusty winds. It was ugly. In walk these five Italian boys...real macho, tough-guy teenagers, gold chains galore and shirts open to the navel in the style that was popular in the early '80's. "Too rough, guys," we said. But no, they each had the money for the longest (30 minute trip) and were determined to go, not taking "no" for an answer. Oh, and could we fly over their neighborhood? In Brooklyn, of course. Oh well...

Since none of the other wussie pilots wanted to fly, low-man-on-totem-pole me got elected. And it was BAD. The first one puked as I came over their houses exactly seventeen minutes into the ride. Yes, I timed it. Two of the other three in the back of the LongRanger puked in sympathy (how the fourth one didn't I'll never know). What they discovered was that puking out the window of a 206 with wedge windows is a losing proposition. You get to experience the stuff twice. I laughed (to myself) as we flew back to 34th Street. They were a much humbler, quieter bunch when they got off. Poor bastards.

Bob -"No Hitchhikers"- Barbanes
Petroleum Helicopters

Date: Thu, 09 Mar 2000 02:44:53 GMT
From: "Mike" <>

The following article is copied from Marine Corps News and is some pretty interesting reading. I flew with Drew O'Donnell (pilot involved) at HMX-1 and he's a hell of a pilot and a great guy too. Take note that he's about 6'4" when reading the part in which he's flying with his head out of the cockpit and understand that pilots of shorter stature probably couldn't have done the same.

Be interested to hear in hindsight what all of you would have picked, boat or water? Personally, I think I would've gone for the water.



By Sgt. Bryce R. Piper

CAMP HANSEN, OKINAWA, Japan (March 3) -- ""Sir, we've got a fire!"

It started as a small fire, barely noticed as an orange glow by a young corporal, almost insignificant in some situations. But when you're at 70 knots in a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter several hundred feet above the sea, and your only landing space is the small flight deck of USS Juneau (LPD-10), just under a mile away, a fire is anything but insignificant, especially this one.

What started out as an orange glow, in a matter of seconds engulfed the Sea Knight's tail section in a raging inferno so hot it burned a gaping hole through the helicopter's metal hull. It was then that a group of Marines rallied to redefine strength and heroism.

"Some of the experts looked at the helicopter and watched the tape (USS Juneau's flight deck video) and asked, 'How did they make it back?'" said Lt. Col. Andrew W. O'Donnell, Jr., commanding officer, Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force East Timor (SPMAGTF East Timor) and pilot of the Sea Knight. O'Donnell has personally logged more than 4,400 flight hours. "This could easily," said O'Donnell, "and quite probably should have been a tragedy. It turned into a really positive thing. I'm happy to be alive."

Deck Landing Qualifications (DLQs) are a routine, 'day at the office' for the Marines of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (HMM-265), the Air Combat Element (ACE) of SPMAGTF East Timor. Squadron Marines, and Marines of G Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, and Marine Expeditionary Unit Service Support Group 31 made up the SPMAGTF. Together, they recently completed a successful deployment supporting the transition from the Australian-led International Forces in East Timor to the new United Nations Transitional Administration East Timor. Upon completion of the East Timor operation, HMM-265 conducted DLQs in the waters of the Mindanao Sea while steaming to the Philippines for liberty. During these qualifications, O'Donnell and copilot Capt. Thomas L. Moore would take off from the flight deck, circle, then land on the moving vessel.

"We were coming abeam to the boat," said Cpl. Jason Coxwell HMM-265 crew chief. "That's when I got up. That's just my habit, I get up and look outside the aircraft to the ship so I can get a bearing on it. And as I stood up, something caught the corner of my eye and it was orange and I looked to the back. I thought, 'there's nothing supposed to be orange in the aircraft.' That's when I saw fire.

"I said, 'Sir, we've got a fire!' and I took off to the back. I ran to the back, hooked up my gunner's belt, unstrapped the fire extinguisher and grabbed it," Coxwell said. "The CO (Commanding Officer) yelled over the ICS (Internal Communication System), 'Fight the fire!' And I yelled, 'I am!' and I squeezed the fire extinguisher. When it ran out, that's when the fire exploded."

"It got huge all over the whole 410 section and started coming out at me," said Coxwell. "And I thought, 'We've got to close off the air to this,' but I couldn't reach the hatch control to lower it. It was too hot."

In a matter of seconds, this routine qualification flight turned into a potential death trap.

"I looked back the second time," said O'Donnell, "and for a split second I thought of ditching. But I never really seriously considered it. At that time I pulled a lot of power and pushed the nose over and lost some altitude, accelerated and within a few seconds I went from doing 70 knots to in excess of 120. I was hauling back to the ship, but the ship never seemed to get big, it stayed way out there."

A mechanical fire's inevitable partner now complicated the threat. A thick, oily, choking smoke quickly spread throughout the aircraft.

"I threw the dead fire extinguisher down," said Coxwell. "This is about the time I realized I couldn't breathe. It was just taking away my air. It was so hot and smoky back there. So I went back up front, trying to stay calm, thinking if I just stick my head out the crew door, I could catch my breath."

It didn't take long for the smoke to find the cockpit.

"I couldn't breath," said O'Donnell. "Every time I took a breath, it was hot smoke. ... It burned my throat.

"I couldn't see," he continued. "So kind of at the end there, I started kicking the tail a little bit, trying to look out that one little open window. I could see a little out there. ... I couldn't see in front of me. I could see my gauges, I could see the outline of the ship. I just couldn't pick up the depth perception and that's what you've got to have."

But the threat of the fire and smoke paled to the next threat that reared its head.

"I'm hanging my head out the crew door," explained Coxwell, "and the CO asks, 'Is it an engine or a tranny?' (transmission) and I said, 'It's not an engine! It's a tranny! It's the number-two generator!' And I looked back and there's fire all over and I see all the utility lines and everything in the back is on fire.

"The CO said, 'My aft transmission's freezing up!'" said Coxwell. "And basically if your aft transmission freezes up, the rotors stop spinning and you fall. That's it. And I'm looking and I see all this fire around my aft transmission and I see everything on fire.

"I freaked out at that point," Coxwell said. "I was calm and cool up until he said his aft transmission was freezing up. I thought, 'We're going down,' and 'This is it.' I could see it in my head. I could see lines on fire and burning plastic just dripping fire.

"It's like being in a car when you know you're going to wreck," Coxwell explained, "and you're holding on and you know there's nothing you can do. That's what it's like being a crew chief sitting in the back there thinking, 'I have no control. All I can do is hold on and know this is going to hurt.'

"The next thing I know," said Coxwell, "we're over the deck. There's smoke all through the cabin. (We) came over the deck. I looked down, and I'm starting to yell, 'Set it down! Set it down! Set it down!' yelling at the top of my lungs."

Pilots who witnessed the landing and watched the videotape unanimously agreed that O'Donnell's skill in setting the burning helicopter down safely was a marvel.

"He came over the deck at like 70 knots," said Coxwell. "Average speed coming in is usually around 20 knots, like 25 miles an hour. We came in at 80 miles an hour. ... And from what I was told, the CO was flying with his head out of the cockpit!"

O'Donnell didn't do all this alone. His copilot was by his side the entire time.

"(Moore) did exactly what he was supposed to do," said O'Donnell. "He was the copilot. ... We got on the deck and he helped shut down the motors, he held in the rotor brake, he secured the generator, he got himself out. He did all the things a copilot is supposed to do."

But the trauma was far from over. Now there was a huge, fuel-filled helicopter spouting flames and smoke on the deck of USS Juneau, potentially endangering all the Marines and Sailors aboard. And circling high above the chaos was a second CH-46E helicopter, its pilots and crew praying for their fellow Marines and praying they could safely land on the Juneau before they ran out of fuel.

"As soon as we hit the deck," said Coxwell, "I kicked the door open and jumped out. I caught my breath and looked up and saw Captain Moore escape out of his jettison hatch. I ran around to the other side to make sure the CO was out. The CO was already out and he had commandeered a hose from one of the Sailors and he was fighting the fire. There was little kink in the line so he wasn't getting any pressure to it. So I undid the kink and ran up and backed him up and fought the fire. I remember fighting it and looking up. There were flames about 20 feet above the aircraft and the blades were still going."

It was then that the Marines of SPMAGTF East Timor proved that O'Donnell, Moore and Coxwell were not the only heroes aboard. When the alarm sounded throughout Juneau, Marines rushed to aid from all over the ship. According to O'Donnell, the entire detachment of ACE Marines and many others from the SPMAGTF charged to the flight deck to fight the fire.

"I saw Marines in PT gear out there," O'Donnell said. "The proudest I've ever been as a Marine was ... after I witnessed the heroism of the (Marines) on the flight deck fighting that intense fire."

"I walked out on the flight deck," said Cpl. Robert E. Winkler of HMM-265. "I saw people running all around. ... I saw people with hoses, so I got on a hose ... It scared the hell out of me. ... All the Marines were up here, all the air wing part. The Marines took care of it."

"I took the hose," said O'Donnell, "and I went up in there and got it right on the fire and started putting it out. ... After about ten seconds I could see the fire was starting to come down. It was still burning but it wasn't as big as it was. I knew we were starting to get the better of it. That's when they took the hose from me. ... And I walked around to the other side. It was burning pretty well, but the guys were on it. They were hitting it pretty hard."

The Marines' quick response prevented a terrible situation from turning worse. The Marines put the fire out, moved the damaged aircraft, and cleared the deck of debris to allow the other, still-airborne helicopter to land.

"To be honest about the whole thing," said O'Donnell, "I was never scared. I was mad. I was mad at the whole thing. The angrier I got, the more determined I got that we were going to make it back. ... So by the time I landed on the ship and stepped out of the plane, with the rush of adrenaline that we made it and me already mad, we started attacking that fire. We put it out."

Coxwell, who received the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his actions, said it felt overwhelming to survive his near-death experience.

"I'll tell you what," said Coxwell, "the CO's a hero. You know how you're never going to forget your drill instructors' names, ever? His name's engraved in my head forever now. Everybody I talked to so far said they'd have set it in the water. ... He got us there. I'm just thankful to be alive. I couldn't believe it."