Stories

80 Foot Hoist

Call to OPS

by Barry Williams AD2-CG, SSGT-ANG, SSG-ARNG RET

A hot soggy summer night engulfed CGAS NOLA (Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans Louisiana) but for a change our duty section had no training flight on the schedule for the night and no SAR cases in progresses.

Then unexpectedly the PA system came alive ordering the SAR crew to the OPS desk. Normally (if you can call someone else’s emergency normal) we would hear the SAR alarm then the PA telling us what kind of SAR case we were going out on. The OPS Officer informed us that we had a Medivac in the Gulf (Gulf of Mexico). Okay normal so far. The catch was, the Shrimp Boat was about 450 miles out and we could not shoot across to the Yucatan peninsula for fuel to get back.

Coast Guard HH-3F Pelican

The problems were that we couldn’t carry enough fuel to make the round trip. The Coast Guard doesn’t have C-130s to refuel from and we didn’t have a refueling probe on our H-3 anyway. There were no cutters for us to HYFER from (refueling from a ship while you fly in formation next to it) and the cutters fuel pumps were designed to pump fuel for HH-52s. The H-3 burned as much as it could suck from a cutters hose. Problem two was that after the last flight into Mexico we were banned from buying fuel there. It wasn’t our fault. The Storekeepers at district didn’t know the difference between a Dollar and a Peso or a Gallon from a Liter. After paying a 25,000 Peso fuel bill with a $25,000 check, they expected the Fight Mechanic to make up the difference. The next problem was that with the aircraft weight with a full load of fuel. We were at our Max Gross weight with all 4 tanks topped off. Which made us over gross according to Sikorsky. To get the lift we needed, our NR (Main Rotor speed) was 103% not the normal 100%. That extra 3% NR gave us the lift we need to lift the extra bulk our H-3s carried. Another problem was that we had recently been limited to 135 Kns max speed, due to Main Rotor Blade pocket separation. The final problem was that it was too hot and humid to get airborne at Max Gross.

One thing at a time. We topped off the tanks, that would give us the range. Refueling and patient drop off was planned for at Lake Charles LA. The temp had to drop at least 2 degrees for us to get airborne, so we would wait for night time temps to drop. We got a waiver for 145 Knts to make up for the time we would have wait for the temp to drop. It also covered us for the mandatory 15 minute launch time dely. That 15 minute launch window wasn’t just brag. If we didn’t have wheels up in 15 minutes after the RCC had called us, a message had to go out to CGHQ, not the RCC or District Command, strait to CGHQ as to why we weren’t off the ground.

While fueling the helo a new member of the Duty Section asked if he could go along. He was fresh out of “A” school and I don’t think he was even in flight training yet. But as an AD he would be trained up as a hoist operator. I know, I had several rescue hoist training flights diverted for real SAR cases, so I knew the importance of exposing him to real thing. Boy was he going to get exposed. We went in to see the Pilots and since we didn’t have a Corpsman he would get to go.

The temp finally dropped enough that we could get off the ground, so the mission was on. The Pilot was LT Thompson, a multi tour Vietnam Vet. The Avionics Men was AT1 Joel Shrum, someone I respected, liked and flew with a lot. We taxied to the end of the runway and did a high speed running takeoff. With our weight and atmospherics that helicopter needed all the speed the pilot could give it, before we cleared the trees and Mississippi River levy at the end of the runway. Once we were airborne, the speed got cranked up and I started doing OJT on how to be a Flight Mechanic. Which included reviewing the symptoms and treatment of the patient. The mission brief said a crewman had been hit in the head by a cargo hatch, he was believed to have a concussions. That was the reason for the long range mission.

As we approached the Shrimper, the Cockpit went into their pre hoist check list. The Shrimper was told what heading to take and what speed to make. Into the wind and 10knots was the formula. It kept the Rotor Disk moving though clean air producing lift. In effect, we would be doing a Hoist while in forward flight and not from a Hover. The Co-Pilot went on the gauges and the Pilot got his eyes outside to do the Hoist. The Shrimper’s Skipper informed us that the patient was awake and walking around. That simplified my choice of rescue device. I could use the Rescue Basket.

Starting my check list, we brought the Rescue Basket forward and moved one of the Gunners Belts to a tie down in the passage way to the cockpit. The trainee was put in that one and I adjusted it so he could see out the door and give me an assist, if I needed it. Normally that job went to the Avionics Man, but Joel was staying on the radios this time. I adjusted my belt so that when it was fully extended my waist was outside the cargo door. I would lean my feet out the door sill with my heels on the deck and the rest of the boot flapping in the wind. Being 6 foot 1 this allowed me to stand up and look around. I took advantage of this by keeping the pilot informed of what was happening around the helicopter, as well as what was going on with the hoist.

On command I switched my ICS (Internal Communication System) to Hot Mike (my mike was live now) and started the hoist. The basket went out the door and I started my litany of commands to the Pilot to position the helicopter hoist right over where I wanted to put the Basket. “ Forward 25, Right 15, The boat has its outriggers extended, Forward 20 Right 10”,”The Basket is half way to the water”. This would normally go on until I had the basket on the Port Stern of the boat we were hoisting too. Since this was a night hoist and depth perception can get tricky over water at night, I had developed a trick that gave the Pilots a great deal of confidence in my hoisting abilities. I would put the Basket in the water and then give it a one second lift. That would lift the basket just about the length of the basket above the water. Now I could tell if the helicopter changed attitude at all, and let the Pilot know if he changed altitude as much as a foot.

As we approached the Shrimper I noticed that we were climbing. So between Forward and Right commands I inserted “you are climbing” as I let out some more cable. The third time I said “you’re Climbing” the Pilot came up on the ICS and said “The closer we get to the Shrimper the taller his antenna are”. This was good to know and not a good situation. As we closed in I had to report that this was not a standard Shrimper, it was a converted Oil Field Work Boat. It was longer and wider than normal, and it had a Towing Bit right about where I would want to put the Basket. The Bit was tandem post about 5 feet between them with a cross piece that stuck out another 4 feet on either side. By the time we were up to the boat with the Basket we had 80 feet of attitude and the Pilot could not see the target. All he could see was the tops of the Shrimpers antennas. On my end, thing, weren’t real good either.

We normally hoisted from an altitude of 30-35 feet. This gave use a quick and accurate hoist. Every movement of the hoist cable was instantly reflected in the rescue device. With an 80 foot hoist, you need big movement at the top end to get a response at the lower end and the whip action can be substantial. We also had 20 MPH of wind on the cable causing a lot of unwanted movement of the Basket. The solution is to put the basket in the water and drag it to the boat. Then quickly lift it over the side of the boat onto its deck. Just as the Basket landed on the deck I let out a foot or so of cable to keep the Basket from being drug around the deck by the helicopter bouncing in the wind.

Two crewmen on the boat ran up to hold the basket. Then I saw one of our biggest fears materialize. A deck hand reached up and I saw his fingers pull the spring loaded mouse open and he slipped the hook off the Basket. I gave the cable big jerk to snatch it away from the deck hand and all I got for my effort was the feeling of the hook locking closed on the railing of the boat. I immediately started playing out cable as I informed the Pilot of what had happened. We decided not to shear the cable, but I kept a hand on the aft Shear Switch guard just as the pilot was doing in the front. I told the trainee to check the backup hook in case we needed it. I didn’t trust that boat crew enough to look away from them for the 2 seconds needed to verify the backup hook was its pocket. If I needed to Shear the hoist cable I would have to run out some cable and weave the cable though an aluminum plate attached to a hook. That would allow us to finish the Hoist without the safety of a Shear. The Shear after all is a one shot device.

As I watched the boat, the Deck Hands carried the Basket forward to near the Out Riggers I wondered why since the Evacuee could walk. The Evacuee climbed into the Basket unassisted as one of the Deck Hands walked back and unhooked the hoist cable from the boats deck rail. As he carried the hook forward to the Basket, I kept up a dialog letting the cockpit know everything that was happening below. I talked the Pilot in a little more to get the hoist right over the basket . Once we were there I let pilot know that I had a clear vertical area around the Basket and felt it was safe to bring it up.

As I took up hoist cable slack and put weight on the cable. The Shrimpers Captain set course to go back to fishing. To do this he turned to Starboard (right for landlubbers) this caused the boat to lose head way, while we were still flying straight ahead. The Basket whipped forward and the cable impacted the Outrigger and caused the Basket to pivot forward. In my mind I drew a line from the basket to the Towing Bit now directly in line with it. As the Basket snapped back right at the Towing Bit I yelled “LEFT LEFT LEFT”, and gave the cable a big pull. As I did I saw the Basket come sailing out from the Shrimper parallel to the Port Outrigger and 3 feet behind it. My reach enabled me to pull the cable nearly over to the Avionics Mans chair. Then I ran back out with the cable in an effort to offset the pendulum effect I could feel in the cable. I had a 200 pound pendulum on the end of an 80 foot arm in my grasp. I had my left hand on the cable and my right hand had the hoist control stop cocked UP. On my second pass inside I yelled for help from Joel, who was strapped in and staring at the radios. No help there, not that he could have helped me because the trainee was in the other Gunners Belt and making like wall paper on the AFCS closet door. I really need someone to take control of the Hoist lever but everyone else was on the wrong side of the cable. As I’m wrestling the cable back and forth I hear the Co-Pilot on the ICS saying “I can….see him….on my ….side again…. . I finally got the cable shortened up enough to get the basket slowed down and under control. As we pulled the Basket inside I noticed the Evacuee had a big smile on his face. He didn’t have a clue of how hairy that hoist was.

Coast Guard hoist

Once the Basket was put away, Trainee and Evacuee strapped in, Hoist Check List completed, my legs were so rubbery I collapsed into my seat.

After we got to Lake Charles, LT Thompson said he had never heard me raise my voice or change pitch when doing a Hoist. So when he heard me yell “LEFT LEFT LEFT” he just slapped the cyclic to the Left.

I would meet LT Thompson some years later at Sitka. He was assigned to CGAS Mobile at the time, as a Stand Board Pilot and was in Sitka doing pilot evals. When he discovered I was there, I was detailed as his Flightmech for Evals that he wanted to put some special spin on. A good job never goes unpunished.

See also:
HH-3F at Sitka Alaska
Database: CGAS New Orleans
Database: HH-3F Pelican in USCG


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