Deputies Scott Bligh and Gary Kneeshaw were among 13 California Public Safety Members to be awarded the Governor's Public Safety Medal of Valor on Wednesday September 14th, 2011. Bligh and Kneeshaw earned the recognition from Governor Brown for one of the most daring law enforcement helicopter rescues in recent memory. On August 21st, 2010 battled heavy smoke, flames, and embers blowing into the cockpit to rescue two trapped mountain climbers off the side of El Cajon Mountain near El Capitan Reservoir in San Diego County.
The female climber was picked off the side of the mountain first in a "Toe In" maneuver after Deputy Kneeshaw climbed out of the helicopter and placed her in his seat. Kneeshaw stayed behind with the male climber waiting for his partner and helicopter to return. During the wait Kneeshaw and the male climber were almost overrun by fire and had to run across the face of the mountain to evade the flames.
Deputy Bligh fought through reduced visibility, smoke, and burning embers to fly back in and locate Kneeshaw and the male climber in their new location on the mountain. At one point during the pick up Bligh received a low rotor rpm warning in the cockpit, indicating that the engine could be losing power. Bligh quickly recognized that the engine was still creating power and the momentary low rotor rpm was a result of the extreme flight conditions and demands on the helicopter.
After outrunning flames once, Deputy Kneeshaw made a quick decision to ride the skid of the helicopter out of the hot zone, a technique he had never practiced and had never trained for. After loading the male climber into the front seat Kneeshaw stepped onto the skid and shouted at Bligh to take off. With flames once again threatening the tail of the helicopter Bligh and Kneeshaw flew the remaining climber off the mountain and to safety. You can read a more complete article on the rescue here.