On a windy, overcast day in March 2005, Steve Flynn of Blackcomb Helicopters hopped into his truck, as he did every day around the same time, and headed off home for lunch.
His route ran along the edge of Green Lake, about three kilometres north of the village of Whistler, B.C. As he drove down the road, he quickly became aware of a flurry of activity taking place out on the lake. Flynn pulled up along the side of the road where a group of onlookers were worriedly watching as rescuers attempted to reach a man who had fallen through the ice.
“There were a bunch of people standing there watching,” says Flynn, “and the rescuers were trying to get to this guy with a Zodiac. They were trying to break through the ice with it.”
The rescue was not going well. By the time Flynn arrived on the scene, the man had probably been in the water for almost 20 minutes. Flynn recognized two of the onlookers, Vincent Massey and Paul “Bones” Skelton, as guys he works regularly with on rescue missions.
Once Flynn, Bones and Massey had figured out what was going on, Flynn announced, “I’m going to get a helicopter.” Flynn and Bones ran to the truck and Flynn called the heliport. “Get a helicopter fired up and get the doors off of it!” he said.
Massey followed them in his own car and they all arrived at the hangar at the same time. “It took all of about three minutes to get there,” says Flynn. “When we arrived, Andrew Bradley, our operations manager, had the doors off the helicopter and it was running. We were just lucky that it was outside and ready to go.”
They quickly put Bones in a harness so he could stand on the skid of the AStar and not worry about falling off; and they rigged another harness to put under the guy’s arms in the water to secure him, so they could pull him out. When they arrived at the scene, it became evident that the harness plan was not going to work.
“The guy couldn’t do anything,” says Flynn. “He basically lifted a hand to grab onto the skid of the helicopter and started sinking under the water.” At that point, Bones grabbed him by the sleeve and pulled him up far enough to get ahold of his collar.
Flynn brought the skid down about eight inches into the water to get it by the guy’s chest, and make it easier for Bones. Bones got him by the belt and with Massey’s help, the men were able to pull him onto the floor of the helicopter. The actual on-scene rescue lasted only a few seconds.
With the victim, Jurg Humbel, on board, it was now a direct flight to the Whistler Medical Clinic. The AStar landed right in front of the building and the trio quickly got Humbel inside where the medical team started to warm him up. From the time the trio had initially sprung into action on the shore of the lake, only about six or seven minutes had passed before they arrived at the clinic.
Humbel was severely hypothermic. “This guy was the worst I’ve ever seen,” says Flynn. “He was probably only minutes away from dying.”
In appreciation for Flynn’s quick thinking and decisive action, he and his co-rescuers, Vincent Massey and Paul “Bones” Skelton, will be awarded the Governor General’s Medal of Bravery at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa later this year.
In an interview with his hometown newspaper, The Prince George Citizen, Flynn was quoted as saying, “… I don't feel extremely brave. When someone is drowning, you just jump in and do what you have to.”
With all of the problems the first responders were having with the boat, it was clearly the helicopter that really made the difference. As Flynn put it, “The helicopter saved his life.”
And while that is certainly true, it also takes the right men and women to save people, the ones who know how to use the helicopters, and that is why men such as Steve Flynn deserve to be honoured.
When I asked Flynn how it felt to save a human life, he replied modestly, “It’s great, it’s really satisfying when you can take all of your training and experience and with a helicopter, go out and save lives.”
That’s really what it all comes down to – discipline and training, mental and physical preparedness, the right person, and the helicopter. Congratulations Steve – you brought it all together.
It’s Really Satisfying: Steve Flynn wins Medal of Bravery
Steve Flynn wins Medal of Bravery
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