10 Milestone Flights

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

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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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