174th Assault
Helicopter Company

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Bear Hunting from a Helicopter

Tim Healy
Door Gunner

Webmaster note: Below is an edited e-mail message I got in January 1999 from Tim Healy. I thought it was worthy of a spot on our home page. As Tim said in a post script to his story, "Jim, this is just a funny little story that I thought I would share with you. And if you think anyone else might get a kick out of it go ahead and pass it on. I don't remember the names of any of the other three guys on board that day, but they are probably out there somewhere. If they were to stumble upon this story, they would probably get a good laugh--and be a bit surprised at the same time." The THINGS we did when we were 20 years old and bulletproof!

We were flying CC (Command and Control) one day out in the mountains and I was the door gunner...we had just dropped off the Colonel so that he could meet with one of his company commanders. It was not a particularly secure area where the Colonel was having his meeting, so we were just cruising around the mountains waiting for his call to pick him up.

As we waited, the crew chief said, "Hey! I think I just saw a bear down there." The AC (aircraft commander) did a quick pedal turn and the Colonel's flight helmet flew out the door and into the Jungle below. I announced over the intercom what had happened and the AC replied, "Damn, the Colonel really liked that helmet. He had it all painted up and everything. We're going to catch hell."

I said that I knew just about where the helmet fell in through the canopy, and that if we could just hover over the tree tops, I could go down the rope, find the helmet, put it on, and you could "sling load" me out. The Colonel wouldn't even know the difference. No sweat.

It sounded like a good idea to everyone, so I tied the rope on to a cleat, using my best Boy Scout knot, took off my chicken plate and helmet, and off I went down the rope.

The canopy was very thick as I lowered myself to the ground. I found the helmet just a little ways from where I set down. I put it on and went back to the rope so I could tie myself on again, jerk on the line, and get sling loaded out. They'd fly out of there to a flat area where they could set me down, I could untie, then they could move back a ways so they could land and I'd hop on board and away we go. Simple!

But, unfortunately, when I got back to the rope, the chopper had shifted so much that there was only enough rope to wrap around my arm. So that's what I did. (As I said, the canopy was so thick that I couldn't see the ship at all--just the rope going up through the trees.) I was starting to get very anxious to get the hell out of there, as there were no "friendlies" close by at all.

So I jerked on the line and they began to hoist me out. As I came up through the tree tops, the pull on the rope was so strong that I couldn't hold on. I was yelling with all my might to put me down, but of course they couldn't here me. I fell back through the trees to the jungle floor. It knocked me out!

When I came to I was shocked to be alive, as it was one of those moments that I was absolutely certain that I was a dead man. I was all scratched up and my right knee hurt. But I was still breathing!

Then another shock wave of fear shot through me, and that was that here I was out in the jungle with nothing but a .45 caliber pistol on my hip and a Colonel's flight helmet on my head--in an area that was probably crawling with bad guys that would just love to blow me away, or worse, and I couldn't even see the sky, let alone the helicopter. I could hear the crew of three (minus a door gunner) circling above the trees.

I began running and beating my way through the foliage, hoping to stumble upon a clearing where my comrades could see me. Fortunately I really didn't have to go too far, for soon I was in an area wide enough for the ship to see me. They came in and were able to get low enough so that the crew chief could pull me on board and get us the hell out of there.

I tied the Colonel's precious flight helmet to the passenger seat, swung around into my own seat to put my chicken plate back on, along with my own familiar headgear, and off we went to pick up the Colonel.

As I watched him put that flight helmet on, I thought to myself, "Wow, what if he knew where that helmet had just been?" And of course as far as I know he never did find out. In fact, we kept the whole incident to the four of us. That night my knee swelled up to about the size of a football, and I made up some story about the scratches. After all, we were just screwing around--just four guys from the States out hunting bear in the jungles of South East Asia.

(Glad I didn't find that bear, by the way...)

P.S. Fifteen years later I got into bicycle racing, and that knee had to be operated on. After the surgery the doc said, "Your meniscus was really scarred and damaged. Probably due to some kind of trauma. What happened?"

"Well, Doc, have ya got a minute? I beganů"

If anyone wishes to contact Tim, his e-mail address is healy@whidbey.com.