I came across an article in The Daily recently that honored Sgt. Julia Brigloe. She has been nominated for the Distinguished Flying Cross to recognize extraordinary achievement for an aerial flight. Her job was to hang on a helo hook outside a hovering Black Hawk helicopter and bring wounded soldiers to safety, and to extract a soldier who was killed in action. Though she lived to tell the tale, she calls to mind the thousands who did not.
After Bringloe safely rejoined her crewmates, they took a few hours of sleepless rest. The toughest flight was yet to come. A call came in for a supply drop and medevac for a group of soldiers dug into a ridge nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. At that altitude, the Black Hawk’s rotor blades would find little purchase in the thin air.
Perhaps worse, dense clouds veiled the ridge. The crew nearly called off the mission before finding a tiny fissure in the gray and punching through. A patch of rocky ground was just visible in the landing zone. But soon after Bringloe hit the ground to get the patient — a soldier who’d been shot in the shoulder — the mist thickened.
“All of the sudden, Kenny looks out the window and says, ‘I’m losing my references,” Sabiston said. “My crew chief looked down and he could only see the cable going into a cloud.”
At the end of the wire, Bringloe looked up and saw the hoist cable similarly vanish into the wet gray above. Some helicopters under some circumstances can fly in clouds, using only instruments to guide them. The crew of Dust Off 73 may be the first ever to do so inadvertently, in combat, while dangling two people from a rescue hoist.
Clipped onto the hook, Bringloe wrapped her patient in a full-body bear hug and said, “Hang on!”
The pilots climbed about 800 feet per minute, Sabiston said, picking up speed and flying blind, watching only the instruments on a console beside their control sticks.
“It’s like driving a car a hundred miles an hour and all you can look at is your speedometer,” Sabiston said. “We had to make sure we didn’t slide into a mountain sideways.”
The stories of the missions she flew read like an adventure book, and even so, she gives the credit for her survival to the crew of the helicopter.
The full story by Erik German is at The Daily, accessible through this Facebook link.
“They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this Nation.” —Henry Ward Beecher