In what situation did Trent fall out of a helicopter? Well, long before I was guiding motorcycle tours, married to a Chilean, and living in Chile, I was in a vastly different kind of business. I worked 7 years as a Wildland Fire Fighter for the United States Forest Service. During this time, I traveled a lot for different fires, and I moved around to different National Forest bases in the United States.
One summer I was based out of Jackson Hole WY, on the Teton Heli Rappel Crew. This was a good crew--a two helicopter, 20-person interagency Park Service/Forest Service Crew. It was an interesting crew for many reasons, one being we had two matching A-Star B3 Helicopters. We had 20 fire fighters from both the Forest Service and Park Service. It also happened to be a Rappel Crew, which meant we got to rappel out of hovering helicopters to access remote areas. It was fun to say the least.
Now typically I was the only person from back East in most of my old fire fighting crews, but in WY there happened to be two of us, not just from the East but both from GA. My Georgia buddy’s name was Trent, and during the season we became fairly good friends. Although the dynamic of the crew was such that we would get spread out all over the place and not always work the same fires, we did happen to be on one fire together in Alpine WY, about one hour south of Jackson.
It was a “good fire” up in the mountains and we got to fly a lot and work in a nice valley. Since the crew was a rappel crew, we had to rappel every two weeks no matter what was happening in order to maintain proficiency. So during this fire we had to make a proficiency rappel. Generally our Heli boss would do these “in place” as it was good practice to not always rappel into a field, but to sometimes add in real world complications. It happened to be windy as hell that day--a real-world thing we dealt with while flying. So, what happened with Trent? Well, first off nothing bad--Trent is good to go and did not get hurt. It was more a situation with several comical errors…
Since it was windy, the helicopter was bucking around a bit and that makes it harder to get out onto the skids to prepare for the rappel. As Trent went out onto the skids, he got bucked right off the skid and fell in between the skid and the fuselage. That’s not really the place you want to be at 200 feet if the helicopter has to make an emergency landing.
Everyone is watching from the ground, as the spotter inside the helicopter is helping Trent back up and onto the skid, laughing his head off the entire time. Trent gets reset on the skid and the spotter gives the rappel hand signal. Trent lets loose the Sky-Jenie rappel device and heads down rope. But he gets caught and tangled in a quaking aspen patch and struggles to get free; he goes down a bit more, cussing like hell I imagine. When he finally reaches the ground, the helicopter gets bucked up and Trent gets lifted up off the ground again and is not able to release the clip of the rappel device. Then he’s back down again and on to the ground, basically falling. In the last second, he unclips and heads off clear of the ropes that must now get tossed out the helicopter. Everyone is laughing like hell at this ridiculousness, not at Trent, as he did nothing wrong. It was just unpredicted circumstances, but funny nonetheless.
All I could do was grab Trent’s Skoll can and hand it to him as he walks up. I did not say a thing; I just gave him his tobacco and kept my chuckles to myself. A few minutes later the helicopter lands, the spotter Gomez in the back laughing so hard he can’t move. As the Heli winds down, we head out to talk, and we all recount the story several more times to our comical delight and Trent’s dismay.
In the end all’s well than ends well, and it was damn funny to see all this from the ground. Trent was a quiet guy, but always a good sport about these things. In fire fighting, things rarely go 100 percent all the time, so for us it was nothing to be alarmed about.
Now here we are in 2020, and I feel like if we can get back on the skid, rappel down, and get off the rope, we will be able to get back at it and survive to fly another day. The old saying is “what a shit show.” Now I’m thinking people will adopt the saying “That’s a real 2020.”