I was at Air Assault school in ’86. Part of the graduation requirement was to rappel with pack from a helicopter 100’ in the air.  We were on a Huey as we rose to the required height for the test, and were told to assume our “L” positions on the helicopters skids before being commanded to “GO.”

As I rotated into position, I somehow inverted my carabiner (or snap link, as we referred to them) to where the “gate” was on top vs. the bottom, and was open.  One of two lines I was hanging from was vibrating towards the opening.

The “Rappel master” pointed at me and gave the “GO!” signal, (the “steely” vertical open handed point).  I aggressively shook my head in the negative and pointed with my nose (as best one can) at my snap link.  It took a couple of iterations of giving me a GO! and me signing NO! before he realized my dilemma and gave me a thumbs up (like that made me feel better) as he gave the other three their “GO” signal.  The rappel master spoke into his microphone and gave me a smile and reassuring thumbs up.

I started to slide inverted under the helicopter as the rope slid through my gloved hands. My pack wasn’t helping.  At this point, one of the two lines sprung out of my snap link.  The instructor tried to pull me back in the aircraft but couldn’t reach me.  He busily spoke into his microphone and gave me ANOTHER reassuring thumbs up.  As I smiled all I could think was “thanks for nothing, bro.”

As the rotorwash battered me, the second and final line started vibrating towards the open snap link and I frantically looked at him and the snap link as he spoke calmly into his headset and motioned for me to wait.  (Like where was I going to go?)

It felt like hours were passing as I stared up at the whirling blades, suffered the rotorwash and tried to keep the rope from sliding through my gloves. Simultaneously, the single 1” line crept towards the open gate until the inevitable…  The second line sprang out of the open snap link gate and the rope ran through my gloves making a sick “ZZZZZZZzzzzzHHHHH” sound.

As I fell, I SCREAMED.

Literally a second later, I landed in the grass, having fallen all of two to three feet.  I promptly stopped screaming.  During the interminable wait the helicopter had been lowering itself to the field below as the rappel line safeties were securing the other three lines to avoid them getting caught in the blades.

I was never so happy to be doing pushups. as the blackhats cried because they were laughing so hard.


(Featured Image Courtesy: DVIDS)