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News > Heroism award presented to Maryland State Police AS365 Dauphin crew for swift-water rescue

Heroism award presented to Maryland State Police AS365 Dauphin crew for swift-water rescue

September 3, 2009

A challenging swift-water rescue with Maryland State Police’s AS365 Dauphin was recognized today with Rotor & Wing magazine’s Helicopter Heroism Award.

Jim MacKay, the pilot of “Trooper 2” for its swift-water rescue (left) and trooper/flight paramedic Nate Wheelock were honored with Rotor & Wing magazine’s Helicopter Heroism Award at today’s search and rescue conference.

The Public Service award was presented to pilot Jim MacKay and trooper/flight paramedic Nate Wheelock, who received this distinction during the Rotor & Wing 2009 Search and Rescue summit in Reston, Virginia.

Their dramatic rescue operation occurred in December 2008 after a catastrophic water main break in Bethesda, Maryland trapped numerous vehicles in fast-flowing water that was three-to-four feet deep.  The Maryland State Police Aviation Command’s “Trooper 2” helicopter with MacKay and Wheelock aboard was dispatched to the scene after 911 calls were received from survivors whose cars had filled with frigid water and were at risk of being swept into a swollen nearby creek.

“After receiving the telephone call and walking out to the hangar, our initial reaction was: ‘A broken water main? That’s something you normally can step over – so why send out a helicopter?’” MacKay said.  “Once we were at the scene, we realized what the situation really was – and we had to assess the ability to perform this rescue with our basket based on trees and wires in the vicinity.”

While making an overhead assessment upon their arrival, the Trooper 2 crew was faced with a number of decisions based on local conditions.  At least seven cars were stranded by the rushing water, and Trooper 2 was asked by Fire Command to hoist all survivors due to the amount of time they had been exposed to the frigid water and air temperatures.

MacKay describes the AS365 Dauphin’s 100 ft.-plus hoist operation, which was performed after a catastrophic water main break in Bethesda, Maryland.

While MacKay held a precision hover with the AS365 within feet of wires and the canopy of tall trees that partially obstructed the roadway from above, Sgt. Wheelock began the hoist rescues.  During the first hoist from an altitude of over 100 ft., a 22-year-old woman self-extricated through her open car window and climbed into the rescue basket.  Sgt. Wheelock controlled the cable while winching the basked up to the Dauphin. 

Working as a team to keep the helicopter’s rotor blades clear of nearby trees, MacKay repositioned the AS365 forward approximately 20 ft. so that Wheelock could lower the basket for positioning in a “V” created by the open front passenger door of a survivor’s vehicle.   Despite the challenges, the basket was accurately placed the second time, and two more survivors – a mother and her nine-year-old son – climbed in.  Wheelock once again guided the cable and basket up past wires and trees. 

Unable to detach the basket due to a thick coating of ice on the cable hook, the Trooper 2 crew flew to a nearby landing zone.  With the two survivors still in the basket, MacKay transitioned the AS365 to an open field and touched down – enabling them to be moved into the aircraft’s cabin.

The Dauphin then departed with its three survivors – all soaking wet and covered with ice – for the nearest trauma center, where they were treated for hypothermia.

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