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> May 14, 2006 – Hello From the Helo!, Part I
post May 16 2006, 05:44 PM
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May 14, 2006 – Hello From the Helo!
Longitude: 173 23.681 W, Latitude: 62 45.574 N

Let me preface this journal entry by saying that today was one of the most exciting adventures I have had since getting onboard the Healy. That’s saying a lot, considering how great the whole expedition has been so far. So it should come as no surprise that I have decided to write this journal in two parts. Here I go:

At 0837 this morning I awoke to a startling beep, beep, beep. I almost hit my head on the bunk as I bolted upright. I knew immediately what that beep was – and what it meant: Jackie, the lead scientist on the expedition, was paging me to let me know that I was getting a chance to ride on the helicopter that was onboard the Healy.

Sure enough, when I answered the page, Jackie was on the other end of the line. I was to get suited up and be down in the helicopter hangar in half an hour.

Still drowsy from having just awoken, I knew that I had to get a move-on: Getting suited up for a helicopter ride over the icy-cold Bering Sea was no easy task. I would have to wear a suit that has two layers: a heavy outer layer and an inner, waterproof layer. I had tried it on two days earlier, and had struggled to get into the snuggly-fitting gear. Once I had finally gotten it on, I felt like a turtle tucked tightly inside of its shell. It wasn’t the most pleasant of feelings, but if that’s what I had to endure to go up in the “helo,” it was well worth it.

Sam, the teacher onboard the Healy with me, would be sharing the backseat of the helicopter with me. By 0915, we were both in the hangar ready and waiting. With help from Alex Stone, the helicopter manager, we were briefed on safety procedures, put on our helmets, and climbed into the chopper. But not without snapping a few photos first!

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Sam and I are all smiles as we get ready to board the helicopter.

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A tiny microphone and a headset inside my helmet allow me to communicate with the helo’s pilot, Jim Dell.

Then, the helicopter’s blades started up and we found ourselves lifting vertically off of the “helo deck.” Soon the Healy was a speck in the distance and we were surrounded by ice and water.

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As the helicopter takes off for the town of Gambell, Sam and I get one last look at the Healy.

Through a speaker system imbedded in the helmet, I could hear Jim Dell, our pilot, talking with the crewmembers on the Healy about our speed and direction. His calm, steady voice eased any worries that I might have had. I couldn’t believe it: I was on my way to Gambell, a small town on St. Lawrence Island. But that wasn’t for another 80 miles. So I focused my attention on the different ice formations below me and scanned the Bering Sea for animals. Although visibility on our way there was approximately 3 miles, I managed to spot three beluga whales and several groups of walruses.

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Jim Dell masterfully pilots the helicopter, relaying our position, speed, and ETA to the Healy’s command station.

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Jim Dell, Alex Stone, and helo mechanic Charles Sims make sure that all flights to and from the Healy run smoothly.
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