10 Milestone Flights- page 4 | History | Air & Space Magazine

10 Milestone Flights

You wouldn't have wanted to be along on most of them.

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(Continued from page 3)

10. First helicopter hoist rescue

Texaco oil barge 397 was in trouble. It was November 28, 1945, and the barge, with two men on board, had broken away from a tanker off Bridgeport Harbor, Connecticut, and was drifting away. After a few hours, the barge washed up on Penfield Reef, off the town of Fairfield.

The men on the barge, Joseph Pawlik and Steven Penninger, set off flares. Spotting them, a group of townspeople gathered on a nearby beach to watch the hapless barge as it was battered by agitated waves. One person in the crowd had an idea: Sikorsky Aircraft was in nearby Bridgeport; perhaps a helicopter from there could be recruited to help. Someone put in a call to the plant.

Sikorsky test pilot (and Igor Sikorsky’s cousin) Jimmy Viner and a friend, Jackson E. Beighle, climbed into a helicopter and quickly flew to the barge. When the pilots saw the problem, they returned to the plant and got into an R-5 that had been recently equipped with a hoist.

Once back over the barge, they dropped a note to the stranded men, telling them a harness was about to be dropped. Penninger donned the harness and was hoisted up quickly, but because the R-5’s cabin was so small, he had to be flown back while hanging half out of the craft, clinging to Beighle. Pawlik had an even worse time: As he was being lifted, the hoist stalled, so he had to be flown while hanging 30 feet below the helicopter, battered by high winds.

At the beach, a news photographer got a gripping shot of Pawlik dangling; the next day, it appeared in newspapers all over the country. From that day on, the helicopter enjoyed a reputation as the Good Samaritan of aircraft.

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