It was just after noon on July 8th, 2001. I was riding in a US Navy helicopter HH-1N "Longhorn 2" from NAS Fallon, Nevada, that was assigned to the Eric Tucker search and rescue operation in the Emigrant Wilderness near Sonora, California. We were on a mission to install some portable public safety band radio repeaters on the top of two of the highest peaks in the area to facilitate communications for the search and rescue teams and the command post.
Earlier that morning, we had successfully landed on Granite Dome at approximately 10,320 ft. elevation. We were returning to complete our repeater installation after offloading equipment and refueling. The crew was going to make a "one-skid" landing, and I had already received my first tap from the crew member indicating we were almost in position. The next tap would have meant "unbuckle the seat-belt and jump out". Before the next tap however, the crew decided something wasn't right and began to wave off.
Unfortunately, the helicopter fuselage began doing full 360 degree rotations. I remember thinking to myself "Oh no! This isn't good! I'm going to die today in a helicopter crash!" I then experienced the two hardest bumps I've ever felt in my life. After the first bump I saw the enlisted crew member on my side ejected from the helicopter.
I assumed a fetal position and waited for what I was sure was going to be the final impact at the bottom of the cliff. The second bump was many times harder than the first. At this point I remember thinking, "Why haven't I passed out yet? Will it hurt when I die?". The twin engines were still running at what sounded like full throttle, but the blades were gone, and I realized that we were stationary. I was sitting in the right rear seat facing outwards. When I looked up, I could see Ridge Lake and Iceland Lake over my feet below and I felt like I was hanging there suspended in mid-air. The search and rescue wench was probably the only thing that kept the pancaked helo from crushing us inside.
As you can see from the pictures, we came to rest on the very edge of a cliff which towers some 800-1000 ft. over the lakes below.
A whole host of guardian angels must have been watching over us that afternoon! Amazingly, all six persons on board the helicopter survived with only minor injuries (lacerations, bruises and one broken hand). I am truly thankful that God spared our lives! I'm also glad that Navy pilot's are trained well in parallel parking. ;-)
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Last update: 2021-01-21