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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Daring rescue of cadets involves LI pilot


    A daring nighttime helicopter rescue by the NYPD in ferocious winds and bitter cold early Sunday saved a pair of West Point cadets stranded on a mountaintop about 60 miles north of Manhattan.

    The pilot, Officer Steve Browning, 52, of Shirley, described in an interview how he struggled against winds gusting to 32 mph as his craft, a Bell 412 air/sea rescue helicopter, hovered atop Storm King Mountain just after 2 a.m. The five-member rescue team saved the unidentified cadets with the help of infrared and night-vision equipment.

    The copter and its crew had to make two trips, hoisting first one cadet into the craft for the trip to the U.S. Military Academy’s parade field, then the second. The two, stranded on the mountain since late afternoon Saturday, were treated for weather-related conditions at the academy’s Keller Army Medical Center, according to a spokeswoman.

    “”I’ve been around the block as far as rescues are concerned,”” Browning said Sunday afternoon of his almost 30 years as a pilot, 14 of them with the NYPD. “”But this is absolutely the most dangerous thing I’ve done in the police department.””

    The crew chief for the mission was MaspethQueens, resident Fernando Almeida, 46.

    “”The first thing we saw were two of them on top of a small rock with barely enough room for them,”” he said adding the cadets were huddled together. He said he lowered the paramedic and served as Browning’s eyes while he steadied the chopper. If Almeida said “”right,”” Browning went right. If he said “”left,”” Browning would go left.

    “”I have to trust him,”” Browning said. “”He’s the one that got us in there to do this job.””

    During the rescue, he said, the helicopter’s rotors were about 20 feet from the edge of the cliff in conditions he described as the “”worst winds you could ever think of.””

    The two cadets had gone rappelling alone on the mountain on a training exercise, on the west bank of the Hudson River, which can reach up to 1,360 feet above sea level, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Military Academy. NYPD said signals from one of the cadet’s cell phones were used to locate them.

    About 6:30 p.m. SaturdayWest Point emergency personnel were dispatched to rescue the cadets. By 7:10 p.m., a New York State Police helicopter flew to the site and located the cadets, but the terrain and the location were not conducive to a safe landing. Fire departments from the nearby communities of Highland Falls and Cornwall had also joined in the rescue efforts on the ground but were unable to help.

    About 12:05 a.m. Sunday, according to the NYPD, the State Police called Browning and his crew at the NYPD aviation and emergency services units. The team was dispatched about 1:30 a.m. from Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn.

    Browning, married to Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning, said the trip to West Point, normally 20 minutes, took 40 minutes because of the strong winds.

    The team used forward infrared and night vision devices to spot the cadets amid the darkness. In addition, said Browning, one of the cadets used a cell phone to flash a light to the rescuers hovering overhead.

    “”When we got there we had to make the determination, ‘Can we actually get in there to do this,’ “” Browning said.

    The winds diminished the closer he flew to the face of the mountain where the cadets were trapped, Browning said. He remembered thinking to himself as he got closer, “”Just control the aircraft. Be as smooth as you can.””

    Temperatures were about 19 degrees, with a wind chill factor of zero and wind gusts of up to 32 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

    As Browning focused on keeping the helicopter steady, the other team members lowered Det. Christopher Condon, a medic with the NYPD Emergency Services Unit, to the ledge with a rescue harness. Condon was able to grab one cadet, put the harness on him and help get him lifted into the helicopter. Browning said the winds, turbulence and the added weight of an additional person on the helicopter required a lot of torque from the helicopter’s engine, making two trips necessary.

    Condon stayed on the mountain with the second cadet while the helicopter ferried the first to the military academy. Rescuers then returned to pick up Condon and the remaining cadet on what police described as a narrow ledge in complete darkness.

    Medical center officials would not comment on the condition of the cadets late Sunday. The identities of the cadets have not been released.

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