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> May 14 - A Helicopter Ride, The Flight of My Life!
Samantha_Dassler_Barlow
post May 21 2006, 04:22 AM
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Date: Sunday, May 14, 2006

Next to my wedding day, my trip to Belize, and my TREC on the Healy, this helicopter ride is one of the three most exciting things to ever happen to me – and I mean EVER!

Patty knocked on my stateroom door early this morning and told me that we had to get dressed in 10 minutes because we were taking a ride on the helicopter. The helicopter aboard the ship is also known as the helo. The weather changes frequently and many flights have been canceled recently, so a person has to be ready at a moment’s notice when the weather is clear to fly. I jumped out of bed, brushed my teeth and got dressed in less than 10 minutes. Then, Patty and I ran up and down 2 flights of stairs trying to figure out where all our gear was and how to get to the hangar on the helo deck at the back of the ship.

I cannot tell this story without pictures to do it justice, so from here on out, pictures and captions only!

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Patty and I had to wear special mustang suits called dry suits. They are made of two main layers – a neoprene inside like what divers wear to SCUBA dive in cold water and a bright orange, water-resistant outside. They are meant to keep us as dry, warm, and buoyant as possible if the helo should have to do an emergency landing in the ocean or on the ice. I had trouble with all those tight layers going over my head and the suit was very constricting, but with Patty’s help, I was determined not to miss this flight!

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I think that Patty was able to capture the sheer excitement and giddiness I was experiencing as the rotor started to turn and we got ready for take-off. I had to wear a helmet with a built-in headset and microphone at my mouth because it is difficult to hear in the noisy helo.

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Patty and I sat in the back and this was our view inside the aircraft. There is a yellow life raft seat belted into the seat in front of Patty. The helicopter manager, Alex, gave us a safety brief as mandated by the FAA before he loaded us in the airplane. One of the things he explained was the use of that life raft. Oh, I hoped we didn’t have to use it! (BTW: Do you know what FAA stands for?)

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This was my view of the Healy that I could capture with my camera when we lifted off the ship and began our traverse across the Bering Sea en route to St. Lawrence Island.

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I could see scattered ice floes from my side (the left side) of the helo. They were so beautiful! It is too bad that it was drizzly and overcast because our pictures do not show the true colors of the ocean, ice, and sky. Even though it was a grey day, our excitement made the actual view so clear and vivid!

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We saw walruses from the helo! Can you see the 2 walrus pups? They became visible to me only after I cropped and zoomed on the photo a few days later. Carleton Ray tells us that walruses like the broken pack type of ice floe.

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St. Lawrence Island appeared to us as a majestic, snow-capped, flat-topped mountain with very steep cliffs leading down to the sea. The ice comes right up next to the island. It was amazing to fly beside the island on our way in to Gambell.

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As we approached the Siberian Yupik village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, I had a beautiful bird’s eye view across a frozen lake to the tiny village in the background. The sea and the ice are visible in the distant background.

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We landed on the tarmac at the Gambell airport just before a Bering Air plane was about to take off. Bering Air has flights too and from the island daily.

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This was my last awesome view of the whole village of Gambell before we flew back to the Healy. This is actually a newer village in this same area that was planned on a grid. Can you see that the houses and buildings look like they are in straight rows?

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On our way back to the Healy from the village of Gambell, I was offered the front seat and I just couldn’t pass it up. I am unbelievably grateful to Patty for passing this opportunity on to me. She told me that in return, I had to give the front seat ride to another person on their first time in a helicopter the next time I ever take a ride. It will be my honor to pass the favor forward. (Thanks, Patty!) This is the view through the front window at my feet!

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This is perhaps, my favorite view on this whole helicopter ride. I stared in wide-eyed wonder when I first saw the Healy come in to view from the front of the helo on our return trip from St. Lawrence Island.

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I have trouble describing the whole experience with the right adjectives. I guess that means that I am at a loss for words – for once! I absolutely love the 360 view of the Healy that I was able to see on our return trip. I think that our pilot had my first-time wonder in mind when he asked if we could circle the Healy for a photo op. (Thanks, Jim!) Home, sweet home.
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Tracy_Alley
post Jun 24 2006, 06:52 AM
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Fantastic pictures, Samantha! I cannot imagine the excitement you felt in the helicopter!
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