NAS WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash.- Lt. Brandon Sheets consulted every member of his crew for a unanimous response before he would begin Tuesday's dangerous air rescue in Mason County. The answer: affirmative, and it was on.
Sheets guided his NAS Whidbey Nighthawk Helicopter down a steep and canyon and, as seen in exclusive KING 5 video, under the 420-foot-high Steel Bridge.
The victim, a 16-year-old Port Orchard girl, had fallen into the river hours earlier and was on the beach, with broken bones and internal injuries and showing signs of hypothermia. Mason County Fire rescuers had her bundled up and ready to go. They helped Hospital Corpsman Second Class Richmond Roy load the girl into position to be brought up into the helicopter.
We had plenty of room above us, explained Sheets. It was our clearance of our rotors from the canyon walls that I was most concerned with.
Sheets managed to stabilize the helicopter in position and after another consultation with the crew, Roy stepped out of the aircraft and was lowered to the canyon floor.
The first thing I thought of was, I am going to have to get into the river, said Roy.
Nervous moments passed before the victim and rescuer, wildly spinning in the crosswinds, were elevated into the helicopter.
With the family of the victim watching, the pilot backed the helicopter out of the narrow, wind-filled canyon and safely pulled up.
Those who've seen the video marvel at the skills of the helicopter crew and many of those who were there still can't believe they saw it happen. Sheets and Roy say it was a tight fit but something they train for on a regular basis.