How long have you been on the short-haul team?
Jon: I became operational 2 years ago right before the Pyramid Slide, that was my first short haul rescue.
What do you like most about being on the short-haul team?
Jon: Well, obviously it’s pretty exciting to be in a helicopter. Although the more I’m in one the more I recognize how hazardous it can be at times. It’s exciting, it’s a cool skill and another great way to help people out via search and rescue.
What do you like the least about it?
Jon: I think it just takes awhile to get used to trusting your gear. As an actual short-hauler there’s not many things I actually dislike about it, but you do hear the spotters complain about how cold it is for them. I used to say ‘Awwww, what a bunch of wimps - it’s not that bad’, but when we flew to Cody the other day without the door on, um, I realized how much colder it actually is sitting right there under the downwash and that wasn’t really even a very cold day. So I guess the cold would be it - those long flights can definitely get a little chilly if you’re going for 10 minutes or more.
Any superstitions, rituals or routines before you fly?
Jon: When we’re about to be lifted off the ground I am always scanning the whole god ring/carabiner/main line hookup. As we’re taking off and setting down I’m always staring at it going ‘OK, OK, OK… everything’s hooked up right’ and then I can sort of relax. That’s my ritual. As a team I wouldn’t say we don’t have rituals but we have our safety protocols which we’re very strict about.
Are you always a short-hauler or sometimes a spotter?
Jon: No. You have to be trained differently to be a spotter. There are different protocols and skills and knowledge you have to have about how the heli is flying versus just being on the line. I am currently just a short-hauler.
What would you say has been the most intense short-haul rescue you have been on?
Jon: That was on Tuesday for Bryce up on Cody (March 27 Bryce Newcomb rescue). In part because I know him and he’s the fourth person in a month that I’ve known that we’ve pulled out of the mountains. And the speed at which we had to move and the severity of his injuries - it all went very much like clockwork and I don’t think we could have done it any better or any faster particularly. But without the helicopter it would have been a much longer rescue and not as good of an outcome for him. It was just a very real ‘this is it - this is go time’ and we had just come from training so it was bam, bam, bam.
What would you say is the most important skill or trait to have as a short-hauler?
Jon: Being able to be calm and move slowly and diligently under pressure. When you get around a helicopter you don’t want to move really fast. It really helps just to take your time, look around and communicate well. Then at times don’t communicate at all. When you’re in the heli you kind of want to chat or maybe ease the tension to some degree, but less is more when you’re in there. Just say something when it really needs to be said. It’s the same mantra I have with swift water - slow is smooth and smooth is fast. If you start racing around and forget something and then all of a sudden you stand up in the wrong place things are going to go really wrong really fast.
There are a lot of diverse personalities and energy levels on the team. What do you consider your personality style?
Jon: I’d say overall I’m probably more calm and grounded. That’s my overall personality - ‘cruisy’ as my girlfriend likes to say. Not a lot of things get me too riled up.
Have you ever gotten sick or thought you were going to?
Jon: No, but I have a pretty strong stomach. I haven’t experienced too much turbulence or anything too hectic up there. For whatever reason the more I’m in it though the more I find things to be kind of spooky. Like one time when Nicole (pilot) started it up there was a loud noise and she’s like ‘Oh wow, I’ve never heard that before’ and I’m going ‘What does that mean? Are we supposed to take off?’. There are some moments… because as we know, they crash.
Do you think there is a limit to how long you’ll want to be on the short-haul team?
Jon: Hopefully not. I don’t think so, but it’s hard to say. In another 5 or 10 years - if I get that long - I might someday decide I’ve seen enough. I fortunately haven’t had too many bad experiences on the team. Some of the guys or women have taken a lot of bad rescues that have impacted them and I haven’t quite yet. I seem to go with that pretty well - the bad ones - it’s kind of what happens in life but I haven’t had a ton of it. So maybe there comes a day but I hope not. I’d like to stay on as long as I can.
How can we convey how important the helicopter is to this community?
Jon: In the last week and a half we have had two rescues that, without the helicopter, could have resulted in a much worse outcome for the patient. Another recent incident would have been a much longer rescue that would have endangered the rescuers on Mt. Taylor. My rescue, when I got pulled out with a broken neck, could have been far worse too. As dangerous as they can be as a tool, if we’re really diligent about following our safety protocols - which we really are - you can mitigate a lot of risk to a rescuer and perform a very expeditious rescue.
How many hours do you train?
Jon: To stay proficient as a short-hauler on the line I need to do 4 rotations - a lift off and a set down, hooking the line up and calling my commands - once every 90 days. So it doesn’t seem like a whole lot but most of us tend to do it quite a bit more. I try to do it more because I enjoy being around the helicopter and getting more comfortable around it and staying up on my skills. We try to train every week but at least every two, but with challenges with the weather and people’s schedules it’s hard. And we can only train 5 people at a time - one spotter and two teams of short-haulers. And we want to train on various terrain and elements and in the spring we try to do a water scenario.
How is it training with the Jenny Lake Rangers and other agencies?
Jon: It’s great. We’ve started to do a lot more interagency training in recent years and getting ski patrol on board with what we do and how we do it because they help us out a ton. A lot of those guys are proficient with helicopter rescue and being around helicopters from guiding over the years but it is a little different with short-haul. And then the park has done it for years so they are, to a degree, a bit more advanced than us but they will use us in the winter because they don’t have a helicopter. It’s been great to see all of these agencies come together and streamline what we do.