By Pat Dooris 11/16/06
Riding into last night's storm aboard our helicopter Sky 8, was one of the most thrilling and terrifying things I've done in a long time.
I should have known it would be a special night, when our new pilot Daron Larsen, said we'd have to drive to Troutdale to get on board.
He was not interested in picking us up at the normal spot, the downtown heliport, which is a pretty good sized roof on top of a parking garage.
As Chief Photographer Karl Petersen and I drove out through traffic we watched the rain blow sideways and trees bend in the wind.
Karl's probably flown more than anyone at the station---he's always up for an adventure.
I like flying too.
I figure the pilot would not do anything to kill himself---so I'd be safe no matter what happens.
Its probably a stretch--but it sure helps me relax on nights like Wednesday (11/15/06).
We arrived at the hanger and found Daron had not pulled the chopper out of its protected building.
The wind's blowing too hard, he told us, to leave it out in the rain. It would damage the aircraft he said.
So we're going to fly into it instead? I asked myself.
We joked about how the wind would give us plenty of lift. Daron pulled Sky 8 out of the hanger. I climbed in the front left seat. Daron sat in the front right. Karl got in back with the video control equipment.
Moments later, we were airborne.
Daron replaced our former pilot Brian Sonnier this week. This was my second flight with him.
As we headed toward downtown Portland, the chopper seemed to bounce through the air. First we'd bounce up, then down, then side to side.
Daron happily chewed gum and pointed the chopper's nose into the wind---flying a bit sideways towards town.
I decided to get some facts straight.
"Daron----I know you'd never do anything to kill us---but is there anything the wind can do to hurt us up here?"
"Oh yah," he answered.
"It could flip us."
More gum chewing.
"Really? It could flip us over so the blades are toward the ground and we're up in the air?"
"I'll bet that's not good."
He smiled and kept chewing.
"But that's pretty unlikely," he continued. This machine can take alot more abuse than we'll want to stand. When it gets bad we're going home."
With that we flew on into the storm.
After awhile I pointed out something to Daron on the ground---right as we hit another big bump. My arm flew up and hit the ceiling.
As we got closer to downtown it was still light. It was 4:30pm and we hoped to get storm video before the 5pm show. But closer we got to downtown---the more I had my doubts.
The storm grew intense. Portland Airport reported wind gusts of 54 miles an hour and we were flying in that or more.
The rain lashed at us as we tried to find the best way to the Multnomah neighborhood where we'd heard a tree fell on some power lines.
Now the bumping felt more like shoving. Shoved right ---shoved more right---now shoved up----shoved down----
Daron chewed his gum a bit faster and asked, "Okay---where do you want to go?"
Multnomah was in front of us---across the river---closer to the West Hills---and the growing storm.
It looked like a thick layer of fog---but as we flew closer we could see it was simply intense rain.
Karl spoke up from the back.
"Are we going to fly into that white wall of death?"
"Not too much," said Daron.
We avoided the decision for the moment when Daron spotted a knot of police cars near Milwaukie.
We radioed into the assignment desk that we were diverting over to the police action.
It turned out some power lines were down, on a car, and totally fouling the rush hour.
We flew in an erratic circle--shoved constantly by the wind.
I leaned forward to look through the clear floor on Sky 8's left side---and heard a sound I'd never heard before in the air.
I thought it was something feeding into my headset from the radio.
The wind blew so hard as we flew a slow circle it made a howling sound as it hit the front of the chopper.
Karl, in control of the camera, zoomed in on the action, but water on the camera lens made it difficult to see.
After four or five minutes Karl said he'd shot all he could.
Daron asked, "Okay, where do you want to go now?"
I looked around at the rain---the clouds seemed to be coming down a bit---the howling worried me a bit---being shoved around the sky started out as fun but had long grown old---and I did not want to risk flying to Multnomah.
"How about back to Troutdale?" I asked.
Daron looked around---and said "done."
He banked the chopper---I called the station saying it was too dangerous to stay in the air---and we bumped our way back across the city to Troutdale.
There are few times I've ever been so happy to be on the ground.
Karl too. Its brutal sitting in the back seat on a rough ride. Our tv equipment forms a wall in front of the photographer. You can not see out the front to the horizon.
That would get me sick in the lightest of winds.
Karl did not get sick. But it was close. He told me later he was thinking about using my insulated lunch bag as container to catch the contents of his stomach.
That's become my new standard. If its rough enough to get Karl sick in my lunch bag---I'm not flying!