Heart of the Storm: My Adventures as a Helicopter Rescue Pilot and Commander

Heart of the Storm: My Adventures as a Helicopter Rescue Pilot and Commander

by Edward L. Fleming


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Advance praise for Heart of the Storm

""Col. Ed Fleming tells a story of true heroism about the constant dangers faced by the pilots and crews who fly the most versatile-and vulnerable-aircraft in the skies today.""
-John Glenn, former U.S. senator, astronaut, and bestselling author of John Glenn: A Memoir

""To risk your life to save a stranger is the highest mark of a human being. Ed Fleming is such a man, and this book is a great read.""
-Dr. Jerri Nielsen, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Ice Bound

""Filled with suspense and emotion, Heart of the Storm reads like a thriller-but it's all true. Ed Fleming has led a dramatic and interesting life, and this book portrays it in living color.""
-Robert K. Tanenbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Resolved and Absolute Rage

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684425846
Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
Publication date: 04/01/2004
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 638,150
Product dimensions: 6.14(w) x 9.21(h) x 0.57(d)

About the Author

COL. EDWARD FLEMING served in the Air Force and Air National Guard for three decades as a helicopter rescue pilot. He was Commander of the 106th Operations Group, 4412th Squadron, in the Persian Gulf and Vice Commander of the 109th Airlift Wing.

Read an Excerpt

Heart of the Storm

My Adventures as a Helicopter Rescue Pilot and Commander
By Edward L. Fleming

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-26436-9

Chapter One


We value the individual supremely, and nature values him not a whit. -Annie Dillard

We'd left the storm behind on the way out into the North Atlantic. Now, as we returned in the December cold and darkness, with one nearly dead Ukrainian sailor in the passenger bay, we flew back into it. Suddenly, ferocious headwinds hit the helicopter and yanked the controls nearly out of my hands. The helicopter turned into a berserk rocking horse, its nose pitching violently up, then slamming down. Rain drove against the cockpit glass. It found the openings in the windscreen seals and invaded the cabin, where avionics control boxes, radios, and circuit breakers were all getting wet.

I was wrung out. I'd been flying since before dawn that morning, with almost no sleep the night before, on a mission to rescue the crew of a sunken freighter, Salvador Allende, 820 miles at sea south of Newfoundland's Grand Banks.

The aircraft's vibration had worked its way into my hands and feet. Now it was drilling its way into my brain. I didn't know whether I was shivering from my cold, wet flight suit or from the helicopter's shuddering. But we were headed home. We'd taken our last fuel from one of the tanker planes flying overhead and we were bearing down on the coast of Nova Scotia information with a second helicopter.

Back in the bay, the pararescue jumper who'd fished the sailor from the ocean was trying to keep the sailor, huddled in a sleeping bag, and loose rescue gear from crashing around the cabin in the turbulence. The flight engineer sat behind us on the jump seat straining to hear sounds of trouble from the jet engines and the transmission that channeled the engines' power to the slashing twenty-six-foot rotorblades. Jolly 14, like every MH-60 helicopter, was supposed to get major maintenance after ten hours in the air. We'd been flying for thirteen.

Jolly was the universal call sign for all air force rescue helicopters, followed by the last two of the numbers on its tail. Jolly originated as a nickname; the MH-60's predecessor, the HH-3E, was a big, blunt bird with an engaging roundness, and the air force models all were painted a dull green. Somebody called it a Jolly Green Giant, and the name stuck.

We'd expected as many as seventeen survivors, according to the briefing we'd received before we left that morning. We found just one that day. He'd been in the water almost forty-eight hours when we picked him up seventy miles from where his ship went down. He spoke enough English to tell us the water had been warm. The Gulf Stream had kept him alive, but it had killed his crewmates. The sharks just hadn't gotten to him yet.

It made me sick to see them, the predators tearing at the bodies in the water, and I knew those men were dead because we hadn't gotten there in time. Rescue was like that. I'd been elated at saving one victim and crushed at the same time because we hadn't saved more. There wasn't a man in our crew who wouldn't remember the sight of the sharks attacking the bodies in the water.

Another gust hit. The helicopter shimmied, then dropped two hundred or three hundred feet before I could level it. "Hold your altitude, sir." The copilot's voice came through my helmet headset over the cacophony of rotor and transmission noise and engine whine. I looked at the altitude gauge among the dozens of instruments I had to scan constantly on the control panel and reflected how I'd never gotten used to the feeling when the weather takes the bottom out and you're falling through space in eleven tons of metal with no idea of where or when you're going to stop.

It wasn't just the drop. I was becoming frightened. We had been awake for nearly forty hours, and I was fatigued, almost to the breaking point. Can't show your fear, though. Fear's contagious and it can be fatal. It was important to keep focused for the crew and for our families.

I forced my hands to stay light on the controls and slowly climbed back to an altitude of about 500 feet.

Jolly 14 labored and lurched into the headwind, jerking us against our harnesses. The rain kept finding a way in, joining and forming lines of moisture that trailed away from the edges of the windscreen. The severe turbulence we'd hit forced us to fly low. Above 500 feet, the rain changed to sleet and blowing snow, creating the possibility of rotor icing.

We flew for half an hour without speaking, each of us lost in his own thoughts. Mine were of the thrill I always got from taking human beings out of harm's way-more than 250 so far by a rough count-and of the end of my career. It was 1994, I was forty-seven years old, and I'd flown rescue missions for nearly twenty-five years. I sensed that I was nearing the point where I would have to leave the cockpit. I hated deskwork, pushing papers. But I owed it to my wife, Jean, and our two sons to get out before my skills deteriorated-to walk away and not be carried. Too many of my friends and colleagues had lost their lives in helicopter rescue. It is one of the most dangerous jobs there is.


Excerpted from Heart of the Storm by Edward L. Fleming Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Author’s Note.

1. Headwinds.

2. An Unexpected Turn.

3. I Fly.

4. Deadly Webs.

5. Turnings.

6. First Rescue.

7. Monsoons and Mines.

8. Korea.

9. We’re Going Down.

10. Two Emergencies in One Day.

11. The Indifferent Sea.

12. New Realities.

13. A Killing Machine.

14. All Scorpions All the Time.

15. The Grave of Salvador Allende.

16. The Deep Crevasse.

17. Rescue at the South Pole.




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