Air Operations pilots David Nordquist and Joel Smith had just completed a water drop on Nov. 9 when they were asked to conduct a rescue, according to LAFD’s Margaret Stewart.
“This is rapidly become very ugly,” Nordquist is heard to say on video as the chopper approaches Castro Peak amid thick smoke.
“Yeah, it is,” Smith responds.
The video shows the pilots hovering while they scanned the peak, which is home to several communication towers and where several construction vehicles and work trucks were parked, for a place to land.
“This isn’t looking good,” Nordquist said.
With fuel at a critical level and flames flickering in the distance, the pilots decided to land in a dirt area surrounded by tall bushes to the east of the towers and vehicles.
“This is not going to be pretty,” Nordquist said as he carefully maneuvered the helicopter to the landing spot.
Once on the ground, Smith ran from the chopper to escort the trapped people and dogs to the aircraft, Stewart said.
Seconds later Smith is seen on the video with the two men, a woman and the two dogs. One of the dogs, described by Nordquist as an English Mastiff, was frightened and its owner worked quickly to coax it onto the waiting helicopter as smoke from the fire grew thicker as it approached the peak.
“Alright, let’s get the hell out of here,” Smith said.
“Good job, Joel,” Nordquist responded.
“That was enough excitement for me today,” Smith said.
“You and me both, brother,” Nordquist said.
In just under three minutes from landing to liftoff, the pilots carried out the rescue.
“Pilot Nordquist and Pilot Smith fully exemplified the core values of the Los Angeles Fire Department; Service, Professionalism, Integrity, Respect, Innovation and Trust,” Stewart said. “Their professionalism, technical expertise and complete dedication to their mission was directly responsible for saving the lives of three people and two dogs.”
None of the people or animals appeared to be injured.