degrees to the left at the end of this control stick. Pull up on that lever, you get more pitch in the blades and more engine power to make the helicopter climb. Lower it, and the opposite occurs. What happened next is somewhat of a mystery. I either told Bill to stabilize the collective, or he did it on his own. Regardless, when he did that he grabbed the collective at the point of those throttles. As he lowered the collective, he also rolled both engine throttles mostly off line, either all the way to flight idle, or at a minimum, to partial power. The timing of him lowering the collective lever was paramount. Had he done this action under a low-g or zero-g environment, the result would have been that rotor system failure I talked about. Mast bumping would have torn the rotor right off the mast and the fight would have been abruptly over. As life goes sometimes, he conducted the maneuver while the helicopter was in a configuration that allowed it. I’ll take a little luck anytime.

What occurred as a result of Bill’s help was a small degree of returned control. I was now able to at least minimally control the attitude of the machine, but I also was now in a power-off autorotation. Power off, falling from the sky in a 7,000-pound helicopter with nearly 175 gallons of Jet-A fuel as well. But at this point, being upright was a wonderful thing.

We had drifted south of the river, and were now over Harriet Island. I frantically searched for an area large enough for a run-on landing. Descending quickly, I scanned and just to our left saw a construction company’s parking lot, with a tall chain-link fence surrounding it. I planned on touching down within that parking lot, then skidding the helicopter on the ground into that fence to arrest the ground run. At about 400-to-500 feet above the ground, I managed to turn the helicopter left and back into the wind. As I approached the parking lot, a man suddenly walked out into the exact spot I was aiming for. I remember yelling out loud, “Dude, I can’t do a thing for you; I hope you move!” I continued the approach. At about 200 feet, as I began to arrest the approach and slow down by adding aft cyclic, I quickly learned that the machine was going to have the last word. The aircraft pitched straight up and appeared to be going over backwards just one last time.

With two incredibly hot-and-angry turbine engines and 1,100 pounds of Jet-A fuel, we were going to die in a flaming mess.

As the helicopter approached vertical again, the rotor started bleeding down its speed due to that reduced engine power setting. The familiar “whop-whop-whop” of a slowing rotor filled our ears. This last loop failed at its apex, and slowly the helicopter’s pitch fell forward again. But now looming in front of us were high-tension power lines that we didn’t see before. Every helicopter pilot’s DNA includes a strand dedicated to the avoidance of power lines. It’s inbred in every one of us, and there was no way I was going to go through all this and in the end be blamed for killing us by hitting power lines. I reached over to pull the collective and use the last energy available to jump over those lines and crash to the ground beyond them.

Just as I was about to increase collective, Bill yelled, “Hey, a flat roof over here!” I looked and right next to that construction company’s building was a mostly flat metal roof, and yes, immediately to our left! I quickly jammed in full left pedal and swung the cyclic left. The helicopter used its one remaining breath to make that last 180-degree turn, and then promptly fell the remaining 15 to 20 feet onto the rooftop.

The metal roof swayed deeply under the impact load of the helicopter’s fall. I briefly considered the likelihood of the roof collapsing as the burning helicopter destroyed it and us as well. And then the roof rebounded, damaged but intact. The roof acted like a huge pillow, absorbing the impact load from the helicopter’s fall.

We then just sat there at flight idle, the blades turning happily, just like I had intentionally parked it there. We stared out the windscreen in utter disbelief. There was no fire. The helicopter’s skids had collapsed. The tail boom was kinked; it otherwise looked intact.

After shutting down the engines, I managed to crawl up and look inside one of the cowlings on the helicopter. All three hydraulic flight control servos were dangling in space, broken free of their mounts. I looked up at the helicopter mast. Numerous “witness marks” consisting of deep gouges were all over it, revealing the severe mast bumping that had entailed. Somehow it had all held together just long enough to bring us here – here back to earth. Getting down from that look in the cowling, my knees buckled and I was unable to walk without help.

I know literally dozens of professional helicopter pilots who went an entire career flying 10,000, 15,000, or even 20,000-plus hours without a single incident. Who possibly could have predicted that I would have to check that damn incident box not once, but twice? My measly 5,500 hours offered me two chances.

I guess Lady Luck was shining on me after all.


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