The HH-1N Huey helicopter was retired from naval service in 2009. It just so happened that the last flight of this iconic aircraft occurred at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, the setting for Clear to Lift. Today, the Longhorn squadron continues flying search and rescue using the H-60 Seahawk helicopter.
In the opening rescue scene in Clear to Lift, a paramedic rappels out of a helicopter to reach a victim on the side of a cliff. It is important for rescue crewmen who specialize in high altitude, technical mountain rescue to be able to control their rate of descent when lowering into tricky spots. They slide down a rope that’s attached to the inside of the helicopter cabin and use a belay device to adjust their speed and to brake.
While rappelling is used only for lowering, the hoisting mechanism is used for both lowering and raising aircrew and victims. In the photo on the left, the crew chief is controlling the speed of the hoist cable as he raises the crewman and victim pictured in the photo on the right. The extra line you see (the one that isn’t taut) is a safety belay line, which allows the crewman and victim a second attachment point to the helicopter. The yellow line you see below the rescue litter is called a trail line. This is held by someone on the ground to keep the litter from swinging as it is hoisted into the aircraft.
In this maneuver, one or more people remain suspended below the aircraft and are moved to a suitable landing area. Usually, these are short duration flights when you need to extract someone quickly and set them down in a safe place.
This is a maneuver done when you want to load and unload passengers or cargo, but you don’t have a suitable landing area. The terrain might be too rocky or the slope angle too steep, for example. The helicopter hovers just above the offload/onload point. The skid is used like a stair step to get in and out of the helicopter.
Sometimes, when the terrain is uneven, you can build your own level landing platform by stacking rocks under the skids. Yep, you’ll read about this in Clear to Lift, too, just like the other maneuvers listed above. This photo was taken on Pointless Peak in California at close to 12,000 feet.
Our crewmen were also rescue swimmers. I don’t have water jumps included in Clear to Lift, but I do talk about rescue swimmer training in the book. In this picture, two rescue swimmers are jumping out of the aircraft and into Lake Tahoe. They’re joined by two pilots, one of whom is my husband, and the other is yours truly.
This picture was taken en route to a rescue between Mount Williamson and Mount Whitney. Mount Whitney is the highest peak in the continental United States at 14, 505 feet. Mount Williamson tops out at 14, 375 feet. That little box mounted on the center of the instrument console was our “high tech” GPS unit.
Bishop Airport plays host to a number of scenes in Clear to Lift. We routinely staged from there to perform searches and affect rescues. And yeah, the scenery isn’t too bad, either.
All Photos: Anne Wilson