Anatomy of a Helicopter Rescue
It's the pure nature of the helicopter and it's ability to hover that very often takes it to remote and rugged locations, on a variety of missions. When it's a law enforcement helicopter that mission can be to pluck someone out of a hostile environment and reposition them to a place of safety. Rarely are there witnesses to these events except the helicopter crew and the person(s) being rescued. And it's probably rarer still that the rescue is captured on film at close range as it happens. That is exactly what occurred though one evening in 2006 in the Hell Hole Canyon area of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, N/E San Diego County.
A couple set out on a day hike but at some point became separated from the trail. As afternoon turned into evening they found themselves exhausted, with some minor injuries, and the realization that they were not going to get out before dark. A weak cell phone signal summoned assistance from the Sheriff's helicopter. As the helicopter crew located the hikers, and set about coordinating the rescue, the male hiker began snapping photos, providing a close up account of a helicopter rescue.
Once the hikers are located the helicopter crew must pick out a suitable landing area. If there is not a suitable landing area one can often be created by the tactical flight officer who is inserted utilizing a "one skid" or "toe in" landing method. The TFO can then go to work improving the LZ.
The other major concern when working in any area with uneven terrain is the danger of walking into the helicopter's rotorblades. More than one person has been killed by departing or approaching a helicopter via rising terrain. It is for this reason that the preferred method is to position the person being rescued, and then have the helicopter come back in for the pick up. In this series of photos, the pilot must make a total of 4 modified landings on the boulder, first to drop the TFO off, then to come back in and pick up first victim, come back and pick up the second victim, and finally to come back and pick up the TFO.
Even with the helicopter down on the boulder the rotors are still supporting most of the weight of the aircraft. Essentially the helicopter is still flying and only enough weight is put on the boulder to stabilize the hover. A close look reveals that the front of one skid is off the boulder while the heel of the opposite skid is off the boulder. This is certainly an advanced maneuver that only the more experienced pilots perform. Precision flying like this is performed every day by pilots all over the world, both civilian and law enforcement, but it's not always recorded for others to see.
There you have the anatomy of a helicopter rescue!