“It was a good day.”
On a hot, crystal-clear summer day, Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) Captain Mike Toland and Co-pilot Sue Roberts were piloting their Bell 412 helicopter over Lake Mojave, along the Nevada/Arizona border. In back of the helicopter were mission scientist Avery Guild-Bingham and technician Chris Cacace. All were conducting a radiation mapping mission. Below them, small specks of vacationers mingled along the lake’s edge, enjoying the sun and water.
Suddenly, the crew noticed a family stranded on another part of the lake. Nearby was a broken-down vehicle. The family, not in view of other people on the lake, waved frantically at the helicopter. As Toland circled back around the stranded family, it became apparent that they were in need of immediate assistance. The crew attempted a landing in the area near them, but were unable to complete the landing safely: the swirling of dusty air caused by the rotating blades would have greatly restricted visibility.
The crew marked the family’s position via latitude/longitude coordinates and then climbed and flew to an area with cell phone reception. From the back, Cacace called 911 to provide emergency dispatch the coordinates. Although the emergency dispatch acknowledged the call, they had several other emergency calls they were working on: “We’ll respond as soon as we can.” Undaunted, the crew continued with the mission—yet kept a watchful eye on the family.
Forty-five minutes later, still hovering in the air, there was no response from dispatch. The crew called 911 again: The family was now number four in line for rescue.
With desert temperatures approaching 110 degrees, the crew knew there was no time to waste. They flew in another direction and flagged down a passing private boat. Waving a hand outside the window, signaling “this way,” the crew guided the boat to the family. Once the crew was sure that the boat had made contact with them, our Aviation crew completed their mission and returned to Nellis Air Force Base for a safe landing.
“I’m so glad that we could help this family out. Mike, Chris, Avery and I all worked incredibly well together to come up with a very creative way to communicate with the stranded family and the boat that helped with the rescue. I’m so honored to work with such a great team,” said Roberts.
Added Toland, “I’m very proud of our flight crew that day. In the middle of a challenging mission, we were able to notice the unusual situation on the ground. With some quick thinking in the helicopter, we came up with a plan to get this family to safety. They were rescued, and on top of that, we completed our mission. It was a good day.”