On 20 February 2011, the crew of an NYPD helicopter rescued two West Point cadets. Off a mountainside. At night. In a storm. To effect the rescue, the helo had to close the cadets until its rotors were twenty feet from the rock face. Twenty feet. That’s the length of a New York City taxicab.
The cadets had climbed up to the top of the 1300 foot Storm King mountain, adjacent to West Point, then rappelled down. But something went wrong and they got stuck on a rock ledge all of 18 inches wide, five hundred feet above the ground. Local fire departments could not reach them. Neither could the New York State police. At this point the cadets had been on the ledge for 8 hours. They were lightly dressed. The temperature had dropped into the 20s without adding the wind chill. Would they survive the night? Maybe.
At midnight the NYPD helo unit got the call. Could they rescue the cadets? West Point is 50 miles north of the city. Hardly their jurisdiction. They could have said, ‘no.’ But this is the NYPD we’re talking about. Three air crew and two paramedics boarded the helo and took off.
When they got close enough for the pilot to see the mountain through his night vision goggles, he realized how difficult this mission was going to be. As they crept closer, the helo was buffeted by very strong winds coming from each side of the mountain as well as off the top. The pilot told the other four men aboard that if only one of them didn’t want to chance it, he would scrub the mission. No takers. So what happened? That’s in part two.