"Well, that was harder than I expected!"
The call was to meet an ambulance carrying a 6 month old female in respiratory distress. We launch, and when I plug the coordinates into the GPS, I inform our dispatchers of our 14 minute ETA.
"Your ground contact will be County 7201 on Fire/Mutual Aid."
I spin the dial on my magic Wulfsberg radio so that I can talk on the proper frequency...
"County 7201 this is ***** 3, over."
"This is 7201, go ahead."
"Gotcha loud and clear 7201. We're 8 minutes from your location, and we'd like a patient update at your convenience, please."
"Roger that. Your patient is a 6 month old female, born with a heart defect. She has had three major surgeries, one of them a week ago. She is having breathing problems due to congenital heart failure."
"Okay, we got that. What ya got for a landing area for me?"
"We want you to land on the Interstate overpass between the ambulance and the pumper."
"Roger that. See ya in about 6 minutes."
We arrive over the scene and it looks safe... the only wires are far enough away to not be a factor. Landing on the centerline of the overpass gives me plenty of room on both sides of the helicopter. There is a traffic warning sign near the end of the overpass that I need to avoid.
"Okay crew, I'm gonna shoot a steep approach to the South, and the last 50 feet will be vertical. Heads on a swivel... shout if you see anything."
(Our S.O.P. for landings is for any crew member to say "STOP!, STOP!, STOP!" over the intercom if they see a danger, so I can abort the landing and discuss the problem afterwards.)
Traffic is obviously stopped by the emergency equipment. I come to a hover 50 feet over the centerline of the overpass and gently start my descent. About 5 feet above the pavement the helicopter starts a gentle pendular action beneath the rotor system. As I further descend the swaying worsens. My rotorwash is being reflected off the three-and-a-half foot walls of the overpass and is affecting the cushion of air the helicopter normally builds up as it lands from a hover. I have my hands full. The trick is to make small amplitude, quick cyclic corrections to stabilize the helicopter. I continue the descent, working harder and harder as we approach the pavement.
"Well, that was harder than I expected! We're on the ground."
The crew won't make a move until I let them know I have ceased maneuvering. With the knowledge that I have done my part they exit the aircraft and get to the business at hand... getting this baby the help she needs.
There are exit/entrance ramps off the Interstate highway at each end of this overpass. We begin to gather an audience... folks stopped because they can't make it across the blocked overpass, and folks interested in the activity around the helicopter and all the emergency vehicles. Within 10 minutes there are 20 or so cars and trucks waiting and watching, everyone out of their vehicles to get a better view. (I don't blame them. I'm still fascinated by helicopters and will stop and stare, even after 41 years!)
The scene commander approaches and shakes my hand. He knows this little girl and her family, and he's happy to have our help.
My crew gets out of the ambulance and approaches the helicopter. They need no help from the ground personnel to load this little one... she weighs all of 15 pounds. Their delay in the ambulance was because they had to "tube" her... insert a breathing tube down her throat to make sure she gets enough oxygen during our 17 minute flight to the Children's Hospital. I'm proud of my crew... "tubing" a baby this size scares many EMS workers. I work with REAL pros!
My takeoff and the landing at Children's Hospital are uneventful.
It's my fourth flight of the day, and at the end of the day I have accrued 4.1 hours in the air during my twelve hour shift.
When I get home, my bed feels wonderful.
I'm asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow.