Military, Public Service, Regulatory

Heroism Awards: Your Judges for the 2007 Helicopter Heroism Award

By Rion Haley | November 1, 2008
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This year’s Search & Rescue Summit drew hundreds from around the world, including our Helicopter Heroism Award winners, each of whom were nominated by their associates, then selected by our panel of judges and you, the readers. We are proud to introduce the judges of Rotor & Wing’s 2007 Helicopter Heroism Award.

Chris Baur has more than 11,000 hr, is a dual-rated certified flight instructor, aircraft dispatcher and turbojet flight engineer. From 1991-1997 he was a federal law enforcement officer/pilot for the U.S. Treasury Dept. He has held many other positions since 1997 and is a retired pilot for the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. He is the recipient of the 1995 Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association’s Medal of Valor for Heroism, presented by Attorney General Janet Reno. He is currently the captain at a major U.S. carrier and is qualified in the B-737, B757, B767, B-777, MD-80 and B-727. What were you looking for in nominations? I was looking for the extraordinary. Leadership, adaptability, judgment, human factors in concert with successful execution of life saved using a helicopter. Clearly there were not enough awards for all the deserving nominees. How did it feel to judge the event? It was an incredible honor and I was humbled by the opportunity.

Lee Benson retired from the Los Angeles County Fire Department in 2007, and formed V. Lee Benson Helicopter Consultant LLC. In addition to writing for Rotor & Wing, Lee has been involved in accepting a Bell 412 out of overhaul and repair and ferrying the helicopter from Washington State to the HAI at Houston. Lee also continues his consultant work for a major public safety operator involving the acquisition of replacement helicopters. What were you looking for in nominations? The main thing I looked for is that the applicants were in guidelines when they were doing their rescue.


Steven "Elroy" Colby Lt. Col. USAF (ret) and Rotor & Wing columnist just ended a multi-faceted 28-year career in the USAF, most recently as commander of the USAF Weapons School’s 34th Weapons Squadron. In this role, Lt. Col Colby directed the school’s graduate level instruction of USAF combat rescue helicopter instructor pilots including courses and training such as CSAR Task Force operations, large force employment training, formation employment, and advanced handling — courses all directly focused on developing skilled risk mitigation through critical analysis of threats, weather, performance and weapons. During his earlier career Colby was credited with 22 "saves." Colby holds dual fixed- and rotary-wing ratings, as well as CFI and A&P ratings, and flew a breadth of rotorcraft platforms throughout his career. What were you looking for in nominations? I was looking for difficulty level in terms of flying handling, crew coordination, conditions (visibility, wind and weather) balanced against safety considerations and risk mitigation. Was there a progressive analysis of mission difficulty superimposed over crew performance, skill level and fatigue? In particular I was looking for a mission where the rescuers were making a conscious decision to not join the survivors in the shallow end of the gene pool. Were they maximizing crew performance and minimizing risk as best as conditions permitted. How did it feel to judge the event? Humbling. Whenever I read about rescue exploits I’m humbled by the professionalism, dedication and selflessness of the rescue crews. How did you find the event? I found the event a good exchange. I believe that the attendance was too few for the importance of the topics.

Richard F. Healing is a professional engineer (mechanical) and acknowledged safety expert. Prior to joining R³ in August 2005, he was a presidential appointed, Senate-confirmed board member of the NTSB, identified by the White House as holding the safety engineering position on the board. Healing completed a Navy civil service career in 2002, after serving as director, safety & survivability for the secretary of the Navy since 1985. He also completed a 30-year military career in the Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve, during which he held four commands and was considered an expert in national security operations. What were you looking for in nominations? Two things, the above and beyond clearly means that these people, on a daily basis, do things that require a lot of courage and skill we were looking for something that stood out at a higher level (normal for SAR is far above and beyond what is normal for civilians). Also, a rotorcraft was key in making that possible or facilitating the rescue. I was emotional just reading the situations and it makes you wonder if you were tested in that way, how you might respond. How did it feel to judge? It’s an honor to be asked and I was impressed by the level of courage involved in each of the nominations, which made it difficult to choose, and required attention to details that differentiated the submissions. How did you find the event? Very inspiring and encouraging in the sense that this country continues to produce men and women who are willing to risk their lives for others and that was reinforced by everything that was described at the event. I also found it very emotional because I found myself emotionally stimulated by people who risk their lives, on a routine basis, to save other people.

Keith Johnson is retired from the Los Angeles Police Department where he managed the Air Support Division for 20 years, and is a commercial helicopter and airplane pilot with more than 4,000 hr. He is the safety program manager for the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, and is a member of the Airborne Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission that establishes standards for law enforcement aviation. He regularly writes and lectures on safety management systems in the public safety and commercial helicopter industries. He represents ALEA on the International Helicopter Safety Team, and is the chairperson of the Safety Management System Industry Working Group charged with developing implementation strategies in order to reduce helicopter accidents by 80 percent by the year 2016. He operates his own consulting company, specializing in law enforcement safety and operations, and provides organization assessments, training and expert witness services. What were you looking for in nominations? People in the search and rescue world who had done something unique and special and overcome difficult odds using a safe and professional operation. How did it feel to judge? I was honored to be asked to work with some really professional people in the business and would be glad to do it again.

D Smith is a senior air safety investigator instructor at the Transportation Safety Institutes’ National Aircraft Accident Investigation School at the FAA Center, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Instructing with TSI since 1999 as an associate staff instructor and employed as full-time staff since 2004. Prior to joining TSI he spent nearly 29 years in the U.S. military where he served as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot earning the designation of Master Army Aviator. He served as the aviation safety officer in a multitude of organizations and has held several key positions in the field of aviation. What were you looking for in a nomination? The primary factors I was looking for was an aircrew who demonstrated extraordinary pilot skill, sound decision making and teamwork. How did it feel to judge the event? What an honor. The potential to influence aviation safety is enormous and judging the event is not a task I took lightly. Participating in this event approaches the pinnacle of my passion. It was an extremely gratifying, exciting and fulfilling experience. With so many qualified and worthy nominations the selection was not easy.

Ernie Stephens is the new editor-in-chief of Rotor & Wing and spent 27 years with a Maryland police dept, retiring as a sergeant and chief pilot from the aviation section. He began his flying career in the late 1980s when he earned his rotorcraft license and incorporated a small aviation company as a sideline to his law enforcement career. His experience in flying and managing rotorcraft operations was put to use when his department decided to form a helicopter unit, appointing him the officer-in-charge and chief pilot until his retirement in 2006. Ernie holds a B.S. in management of technical operations and an M.S. in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where he is also a professor. He has been writing features, columns and aircraft evaluations for Rotor & Wing magazine since 2003, and was nominated for the Aerospace Journalist of the Year Award in 2008. What were you looking for in the nominations? We were looking for crew and aircraft applications that brought together a mix of dedication to duty and effective use of helicopter technology that rose to heroic levels, without crossing that fine line of recklessness. How did it feel to judge the event? I was quite honored to serve as a member of the judging panel, and deeply moved by the accounts of bravery and dedication shown in each of the many cases we reviewed. Trying to pick one group of heroes out of such an impressive group was very, very difficult. How did you find the event? I thought the SAR Heroism Award luncheon was very inspiring and deeply moving. Just being in the same room with the award winners was a high honor and a great privilege!

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