If wilderness rescue fl ying is so dangerous, why do people do it? Most pilots say it is because they love to fl y. Each pilot is different, however. Most have other reasons as well.
Jim Hood always wanted to be a mountain fl yer. He is now the chief SAR pilot in Denali National Park, in Alaska.
A Walk in the Park
Millions of people visit America’s national parks each year. The parks are wild, beautiful places for hiking, camping, fi shing, and skiing. They can also be dangerous. In the year 2007 alone, there were 3,593 search and rescue missions in national parks, and 136 park visitors died. Nineteen people disappeared and were never found.
He has fl own rescue missions to the highest mountains in North America. “It’s a very hostile environment up there,” he says. Why does he do it? “The challenge, I guess, is the main thing. You’ve got to challenge yourself all the time.”
Unlike Hood, Melissa Haney didn’t plan to be a pilot. She was an Air Force communications offi cer. She went to war in Afghanistan. “I was exposed to the rescue mission” while there, she said. “I had never thought about fl ying . . . but I found a way into it.”
After Afghanistan, Haney trained for two and a half years to be a pilot. Now she is a captain in the Alaska Air National Guard. Haney fl ies large fi xed-wing airplanes. She is on 24-hour alert for rescue missions in Alaska, Canada, and even Russia. Why does she do it? “Originally, I wanted to do it for the challenge,” she says. “Now I really enjoy it and the mission we do.”
Wendy Holforty believes in serving her community. She was once a police offi cer. “During my career as a police offi cer, I learned to fl y airplanes,” she says. She trained on and fl ew fi xed-wing aircraft. Now, Holforty fl ies for the California Civil Air Patrol (CAP). The CAP gives
non-military support to the U.S. Air Force. “As a search and rescue pilot,” she says, “I fl y in search of downed aircraft and during disaster relief.” This may include fl ying to areas hit by forest fi res, earthquakes, or fl oods. Holforty loves to fl y and wants to help people.
Hooked on Flying
Mike Glaccum was on his way home from work when he saw a sign. “Learn to fl y. First lesson $25.” Glaccum signed up, took one lesson, and was hooked. “I loved it!” he says. A friend told him about an Air Force program. If he joined, the Air Force would help pay for college and train him to fl y helicopters. He did it.
Captain Glaccum is now a search and rescue pilot. “I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction out of my work,” he says. “I’m proud to say that there are [people] who are alive today because of me, my crew, and our helicopter.”
Mount McKinley is part of Denali National Park, in Alaska. At 20,320 feet (6,194 meters) high, it is the tallest mountain in North America. Hundreds of people try to climb the mountain every year. Park rangers give climbers information on weather, safety, and the best routes to take. Rangers keep track of how many people are on the mountain every day, how many get to the top, and when they come down.
It costs a lot of money to rescue people from high mountains. For this reason, people climbing Mount McKinley must pay a $200 fee for rescue insurance. This helps pay the cost if someone needs to be rescued. If the climber comes back safely, the money is returned.
Most rescue pilots love to fl y. Some enjoy the challenge of doing dangerous work. For many, helping others makes the
job worthwhile. All of them are skilled, professional fl yers. As Melissa Haney says, “My job is to be good at what I do.”
A Bag of Sand
Yosemite National Park is in California. People come from around the world to climb its famous rock walls and cliffs. Each year, some of them get hurt. For many years, the only way to help them was to send more climbers onto the cliffs. John Dill, a search and rescue expert, invented a way to rescue them from helicopters. He tied a small bag of sand to a thin nylon line. The bag was tossed from the helicopter to the climbers. A heavy rescue line was tied to the thin one. Then, climbers could pull in the rescue line, tie themselves to it, and be lifted off the cliff.