Rotor & Wing magazine’s Helicopter Heroism Award was presented to Maryland State Police AS365 Dauphin crew for swift-water rescue. The public service award was presented to pilot Jim MacKay and trooper flight paramedic Nate Wheelock during the Rotor & Wing 2009 Search and Rescue summit in Reston, Va.
The rescue operation occurred in December 2008 after a water main break in Bethesda, Md., 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.
The rushing water stranded at least seven cars, and Trooper 2 was asked by Fire Command to hoist all survivors because of the amount of time they had been exposed to the frigid water and air temperatures.
While MacKay hovered the AS365 within feet of wires and tall trees that partially obstructed the roadway from above, Sgt. Wheelock began the hoist rescues. First rescued was a woman who freed herself from her car and climbed into the basket. From an altitude more than 100 feet, she was hoisted into the helicopter.
Working as a team to keep the helicopter’s rotor blades clear of nearby trees, MacKay repositioned the AS365 forward approximately 20 feet so that Wheelock could lower the basket next to 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 9-year-old son, climbed in. Wheelock once again guided the cable and basket up past wires and trees. Unable to detach the basket because of a thick coating of ice on the cable hook, MacKay flew the helicopter 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 for the nearest trauma center, where they were treated for hypothermia.