>> Friday, October 15, 2010
Do you all remember the Balloon Boy fiasco? The one that happened practically in my own backyard? The one that kept the nation on the edge of it's seat - wondering, worrying, and praying that a little boy wasn't trapped inside that floating roll of aluminum foil. Only to find out that it was all a hoax. But you only heard what was reported by the news.
I, on the other hand, got a full play-by-play report from My Marine -- who was part of the rescue mission.
And so, dear readers....on the one-year anniversary of Balloon Boy, I give you a glimpse of the Balloon Boy
rescue debacle from my husband's standpoint.
Coming back from my lunch I entered the front part of the hanger facility. Mistake #1! The front part of the building is where the Operations of the units are planned, tracked, etc. etc. Stupidity Incorporated is how we greasos (slang for mechanic) look at this area. Of course we know they think of our end of the building (the actual hanger) as Heathen Central. While walking down the hall to check on an evening flight I noticed, from a distance, there were way too many people, walking way too fast, and all with their hair on fire. Having made a grave tactical error in my timing to check on something I immediately "about faced" and began to exit the "theater of doom" at a high rate of speed.
"SAR (Search and Rescue) mission is being launched immediately, you're the crew chief! Get the flight medic in here now! Find out what bird we got too!"
Now, we (the Colorado Army National Guard) almost always have two aircraft identified for SAR missions. One has a hoist already installed and the other may have a hoist, but is usually a backup for the first. Having lived in Colorado for a few years, I've learned that there are plenty of idiots getting lost and doing stupid things in the mountains that require our assistance. What I didn't know today was that the Lords of the most Assinine Crap were at it in force.
My flight medic was still at lunch. I'm convinced that he actually saw the news and was not getting involved in this at all. I on the other hand was more worried about how much beer was in my own fridge at home and not paying attention to the "breaking news" that was more important than...war, the economy, the environment, the new beer tax, gasoline prices, etc. etc.
After grabbing my flight gear, the McDonald's bag with the rest of my lunch, and aspirin for the headache I knew I would get from spending too much time in the front of the facility, I headed to the flight line to see the backup aircraft getting a hoist loaded into it. In this situation, one would generally and correctly assume that we would be heading into the mountains to get some unfortunate soul that couldn't be reached by the civilian services. Mistake #2: Assuming something, especially with any military involvement, at all.
Still no flight medic and another crew chief is getting suited up to be a possible "dope on a rope" and ride the hoist down to whoever we're going to get. He gets to do this since I outrank him. That's it...end of discussion. The aircraft begins start up procedures and the medic shows up (nice of him). Another mechanic then brings out a static discharge wand. What the F$#%! We look at him with the expressions on our faces saying what was just said. A static discharge wand is used in cases of touching something on, or attached to the helicopter. This is not needed for hoist operations as the cable itself, or the medic will ground out the aircraft and no one will get shocked, except possibly the medic. (Don't worry, that's what they get paid to do) The stupid wand somehow ends up on the aircraft.
"Guard Medevac 908, cleared for current position takeoff (from our parking spot) and direct to DIA. They're waiting for you of frequency Blah, Blah, Blah. Redeye 11 (a flight of F-16s) and flight continue holding until Medevac aircraft is clear"
Wow, this must be big; we are actually getting cleared before the beloved fighter jets. (They were just on a training mission) But a serious question begged to be asked...last I checked the mountains, which I can see right now, are to the west of us, not to the northeast. Simple answer, either DIA was relocated to the mountains over the last hour, or God moved the mountains and didn't tell anyone. But who am I to ask? And if one simply looked up, you could see airliners circling instead of landing.
Only now are we in back being told that a kid is stuck in a balloon that somehow took off. Again not seeing the news, me, the medic, and the other crew chief are thinking "so what", it'll come down, and "how are we going to do anything anyway?" Balloons are big, and colorful. I was actually mad I didn't know this earlier because I figured we'd be following this thing until it came down...probably in Iowa, Illinois, the Atlantic Ocean, and I didn't have a change of clothes, or nearly enough food. We are also finding out that DIA is now closed due to the balloon crossing the runways.
Searching for this should be easy, right? Big and colorful. It was actually the news helicopters and the ground convoy of emergency vehicles that tipped us off that something was amiss. Still no balloon in sight, just some helicopters circling a UFO....wait a minute, they got the wrong thing, we're supposed to be looking for a balloon not a UFO.
"Hey guys (we know most of the news pilots) have you seen a balloon, we aren't really interested in the UFO." We believe that's a job for the Air Force, maybe that's why they were taking off too!
"Guard Medevac 908, that UFO IS your balloon!" Apparently the news organizations don't have random drug testing like the military.
"Ahhh, that silver thing, that's it?"
"Yep" This is a new one on me. So help me God if some alien thing from Independence Day pops out....
After circling the thing a few times, and pulling up next to it, we can't figure out how a kid could even fit in there. The bright side, it's starting to come down (See...we were right!). We, along with the world now, watch as it lands, and the emergency personnel rush to it. With that...
"Guard 908 is RTB (return to base) at this time, see you guys later" We no longer needed the Medevac callsign and said bye to the rest of the party.
As we are returning us guys in back are finally briefed on what the "Good Idea Fairies" had come up with. We would, while flying above the UFO, lower the medic, or someone down to the balloon to get the kid out. (So that's why they dropped the static discharge wand off with us) Whisky Tango Foxtrot! (for those not familiar with military jargon - that translates to WTF??) Apparently our officers are not required to partake in the random drug testing either! I actually took this as a good thing. If we had actually done this, I could show up drunk to work forever and no one could say anything about it and maybe I would never have to do a drug test again! (Now don't get us wrong...we would have done anything, for anyone that would've needed it - even if it meant hanging in mid-air, thousands of feet above the ground in a moving aircraft all while holding a lightening rod)
Upon returning to the base we don't shut down, and Operations personnel are running to use with maps and an assortment of papers. We're told that the kid was not inside the UFO/Balloon/whatever and that someone, including a news helicopter had seen something fall out, or from the balloon, up north outside of Ft. Collins.
So back into the aircraft we go for a recovery mission. Search grids are set up with at least a half a dozen helicopters and ground personnel units. For the next two hours we conduct nothing short of a "morbid" search for something we hope we don't find. As we go "Bingo" (only enough fuel to get back) we now have another aircraft from our unit with FLIR (infrared cameras) showing up on station. We all are hoping that the kid launched the balloon, got scared, and is still hiding. (Those of you with kids know how well they can hide when they need to!)
To our relief, as we landed, that's exactly what we hear. We're now betting on whether or not child abuse will be a fully sanctioned sport in one particular household. But, we're glad all ended well for a kid and wondering what goes through some people’s minds sometimes! Only after we got back and started debriefing did we find out the multitude of bizarre rescue ideas that been "brought to the table" before and during the mission. (I won't bore you now with those, besides we still need the support of the American people in their military leaders)
What we and I got out of this escapade: You, the taxpayers spent thousands, upon thousands of dollars on a Rescue mission for a hoax. Because of this hoax, military support for rescue missions will now be scrutinized further causing delays and possible "no mission" scenarios. Colorado just looked spectacular in the media for this one, and I got another "Whoop ass" tour of eastern Colorado for no apparent reason.
A side note on the aircraft: tail number 908. This used to be a Special Operations gunship and fought in the Battle of Moghidishu, Somalia. (Blackhawk Down) It was then transferred to the Guard as a Medevac aircraft and had serious battle damage in Iraq in 2007. Its illustrious history now has the honor of chasing some little shit in a balloon over Colorado. Can't wait until another unit gets this aircraft and see's that!