December 10, 2010 by Tim McAdams

I learned to fly helicopters in the early 1980s. Back then I read a story about a helicopter pilot who rescued an airplane pilot who had crashed on the ice of Lake Erie. The helicopter pilot was flying along the shore of the lake in a Hughes 300C when he heard on the radio that the Coast Guard helicopter had turned back because of weather. He decided to head out over the lake and look for the downed pilot.

The traffic-reporting helicopter did not have any navigational radios so the pilot asked the Coast Guard for directional information. Ice had built up on the blades and airframe, and his skids contacted the water a few times when he lost depth perception because of fatigue. After several attempts, in total darkness, he found the pilot. After getting him onboard, he flew back and landed on the shoreline with less than five minutes of fuel remaining. The helicopter pilot was awarded the Avco/Aviation/Space Writers Association Heroism Award.

There is no doubt that his actions probably saved the downed pilot’s life. However, had he crashed while attempting this rescue would he have been viewed as an excessive risk-taker or a hero who tried despite the odds? I wonder in today’s environment of risk assessments and safety management systems if perceptions would have been different?

  • Kris Sundberg

    I was told by my first flight instructor to not make yourself part of the emergency. He was in reference to the Senator Heinz fatality where the helo volunteered to inspect the landing gear of the Heinz jet and both crashed killing all aboard. A year or two later, I think 3 tour helos crashed in Alaska while two were trying to assist the first after an emergency landing.

  • Dale Long

    The world needs “heros-in-training.”

    Real-life heros are not show-offs. Typically, people who get such recognition are surprised the world noticed. Such a person was just doing what should have been done in that extra-ordinary circumstance. Basically, someone putting the safety of another person in front of his or her own safety. Proper flight training can breed this type of person. Show-offs often wash-out in training as no one should be ‘entitled’ to become a pilot. Pilot status should continue to be a PRIVILEGE that is earned. And, an aviator should be paied equal to the difficulty in becoming a certified pilot.

    In the ’60’s, my instructor (an ex-Air Force pilot flying for United) felt few student pilots should make the cut. With little encouragement, many more of his students started than finished. He believed he was doing the right thing – and so did I.

    Presently, Flight Instructors feel pressure to get their flight students through to a certification. Aviation (General, Corporate and Commercial) is more and more under a microscope. Multiple issues ongoing, i.e., FAA funding, temporary restricted airspaces for the President, Airport Security, Ramp Security, terribly low pay for career pilots all make being a pilot less ‘fun’ than it should be. Aviation-ralated ‘incident’s as well as real accidents get inappropriate national media attention, in my opinion.


    Possibly, a new generation of aviation ‘heros’ will come out of aviators who keep ongoing documents of how they take no risks, never bend props, quickly to say ‘No’ (thoroughly documented why) flights with possible adverse weather, always achieve the 90th percentile in customer satisfaction scores, and never put themselves in harms way.

  • http://aopa.org Jim Borger

    If he had not been succesful he would have been ridiculed for poor decision making, as he would be today. The difference between hero and zero can be quite small.

    As to Mr. long, I learned to fly in the Army in the mid 60’s and the common practice was to put a student under as much pressure as possible. The reasoning was that if a student could make it through that kind of training he probably could withstand the stress of combat. I did not agree then and I don’t now. The worst student in training might be the best pilot, and vice versa, after flight school. In combat you never know who is going to get the job done and who isn’t until the action heats up.

    My last two years in the Army I was an IP and I did everything I could to get my students through graduation. They had already been put through rigorous mental and physical testing. I felt that if they made it to flight school then my job was to get them through. I graduated 40 students and busted one out. Almost anybody can learn to fly and with proper mentoring do it safely.

  • http://www.oregonpilot.org pdxpilot

    Reminds me of Wes Lematta of Columbia Helicopters fame rescuing people off the Oregon coast in his Hiller. Captured in a good but pretty hard to find book “Flying Finns” The first 50 years of Columbia Helicopters. Worth a read or even just look at the photos if you can find, borrow, or rent it.

  • Fred B.

    “Ice had built up on the blades and airframe, and his skids contacted the water a few times when he lost depth perception because of fatigue. After several attempts, in total darkness, he found the pilot” …… “However, had he crashed while attempting this rescue would he have been viewed as an excessive risk-taker or a hero who tried despite the odds”?

    To me this is the definition of a Hero! This pilot was thinking of one thing that being saving another soul yes he too could have been a casualty but he wasn’t and he saved a life because of his action. If he did end up as a casualty trying I would not think differently he still would be a hero I can’t think of anyone identified as a hero not being a risk taker its part of the job description. Thank you for mentioning this story personally I think we need more heroes and people talking about them vs. the kind of news we are bombarded with daily.

  • Eddie T

    What you do (as this guy did) in the “heat of the moment” can be mitigated by training, but is never predictable. Personally, I feel the guy is a hero, but if it had gone “wrong” there is no doubt in my mind that the “jobsworths” in the FAA, insurance company, law enforcement, etc wouldn’t give him (or his heirs) any slack once the headlines died down!

  • john trafficanti

    in your article last paragraph eighth word in you said probably saved his life, It absolutely did save his life, We need people who are concerned often referred to as risk takers, No these are people who are concerned with others well being. Everything we undertake has a risk, Traiing and self confidence and having faith in GOD will pull you through any situation.

  • Doug Rodrigues

    Heros are the ones who put the welfare of others ahead of their own. The chopper pilot was willing to risk his life to save someone else. Most people don’t understand why some people will do that, but will only function as finger pointers and naysayers if the hero fails. Theodore Roosevelt explained it perfectly…..:

    ” It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    Read more: http://artofmanliness.com/2009/02/28/manvotional-the-man-in-the-arena-by-theodore-roosevelt/#ixzz18NCdl7jj

  • Mick Anderson

    Military, cops, firefighters, medics etal are all heros because they live an ethos that puts other people first, themselves second. But a civilian tries the same and regardless of the outcome gets doubters? Come on people. We need more people to think like this – ones who know they have a capability to make a difference and charge ahead to try. Just like the lady with the handbag who tried to knock the gun out of the guys hand at the school board shooting. She’s a hero as well – she had a chance to make a difference and she took it. The action speaks loud about her character – selfless in the light of danger. How about you?

  • Rex Beesley

    I think that no-one is disputing the heroic actions of the helo pilot, but in today’s world of invasive regulation and nanny agencies, he would probably finish up with a license sanction and at least a re-training requirement if he managed to keep his job. It’s a sad world where Earhart and Lindbergh et al would probably not be permitted to do what they did!

  • http://thehood.livejournal.net Ehud Gavron

    I have to agree with Rex. Everything I’ve been taught as a private pilot goes contrary to what this hero did.

    And I do agree with everyone thus far… he IS a hero.

    – did not return with FARS mandated reserve fuel load
    – flew beyond glide distance from shore in a “traffic-reporting helicopter without navigational radios” so I’m assuming he didn’t have life-jackets on or floats available
    – flew with ice on the blades – a nanny agency or his insurance company would probably have a fit but I can’t find a reg. for it.
    – flew past the point of fatigue

    So… because he saved the downed pilot, he is a hero. Had the story ended any other way, his friends, peers, people here who knew him, and his family… would all be saying “What was he thinking?”


  • Franklin Porath

    I know the pilot described, Art Fantroy of Cleveland, Ohio. He trained in the military, flew in Viet Nam, set up the local hospitals’ medevac flights, and was the “Chopper Five” TV traffic personality. He was also my instructor, and company pilot. He currently flies the helicopters for the Cleveland Police Department. He exemplifies so much that is good about aviation people that I know it would embarass him to extol him much more. I am proud to be his friend.

    I was once called in the middle of the day by a friend who had organized a “Career Day” in the local school system, and Art had called to say he was delayed. I substituted for him, discusssing careers in aviaiton. As I finished, in came Art. “What happened?” I asked. “Had a little engine trouble with the helicopter,” he replied. “Did you make it back to the field?” I asked. “Nearly,” he said.

    (Last year he again made headlines as the Cleveland Piolice helicopter he was flying to Columbus for maintenance necessitated an emergency landing in a farmer’s field.)

    Art’s skill, coolness, and good humor are legendary in the Cleveland aviation community. But that’s the subject for whole different discussion.

  • Walt Slazyk

    Dear Mr. Porath,
    Thank you for moving this away from an almost hypothetical discussion to a very real, very personal story. My hat is off to Mr. Fantroy. We need more people like him in this world.

  • Stuart Ashley

    What has changed in the world is the tendency to judge everything based on groundrules that have been laid down by people who have not had the experience of needing to be rescued or of rescueing others. In real life, you do what you can. You, hopefully, recognize when you can’t, so as not to make the situation worse. I have not needed rescue, yet. But I have intervened in three serious road accidents, gotten several people down from cliffs and glaciers, and rescued two overturned canoeists from the middle of a glacial river in Alaska. As a minimum, two people have their lives and another his right leg because of these interventions. Try to tell these folks I should have “done the prudent thing”.
    Cheers! Stu.

  • Bus Driver

    @ Mr. Dale Long-
    The FAA issues airman CERTIFICATES, not licenses. The original FAA Act of 1958 instilled that flying in the US is a RIGHT, not a priviledge. I’m not ready to give up any rights. Maintaining standards and displaying proficiency is neccessary, but making flying a priviledge is not neccessary.

  • Nick

    For the most part it all comes down to this I think:
    You can risk everything, break every rule…even a few laws (legal and physics), if you save the day then you will be lauded or at the very least vindicated. If you prang the aircraft and do everything RIGHT you will still be in hot water.

    In these days of risk aversion/safety automation, etc we all need to know our limits and make the decision BEFORE getting into the aircraft. Whenever I brief overwater flight to my students they are a bit taken aback by my comment “If we have to ditch, use your procedures and get out. I may help you out, you may decide to help me out, but NEVER come back for any of us, once out count yourself lucky.” To some extent, if you perform a dangerous job, you must write yourself off early. I already assume I will not survive some things…alleviates the stress for me and allows me to perform better!