SAME BIRD-DIFFERENT BEAR
by: Charles J. Herrmann
On 12 July, 1963,
Captain Tom Williams, co-pilot; Staff Sergeant Charlie Maxwell and I
were returning to Eielson AFB from Galena AFS after a 7 -day TDY of
24-hour rescue alert duty. After about one hour of flight,
approximately 40 miles southwest of the village of Tanana, we
experienced an engine failure, which required a forced landing
(autorotation) into a lightly wooded area of 15-20 foot pine trees.
Fortunately no one was injured and the aircraft suffered only minor
damage (a broken cabin window) except for the rotor blades which were
After insuring that we were all unharmed, we began executing all the proper rescue procedures straight out of the manual, ahem! Radio calls were made at 15 and 45 minutes after the hour; two hours after landing, Kotzebue Radio (400 miles away) picked up our transmissions; shortly there after we began to receive faint calls from Tanana FAA.
Meanwhile, we had prepared a huge 15-foot teepee of wood from the dead tree area we had avoided during our descent. Besides the teepee we placed a 5-gallon jerry can filled with oil drained from the engine. Had it been necessary, the pile of wood we had amassed would have created a smoke signal visible half way across Alaska. After enjoying (?) some of our food rations, we climbed on top of the H-21 to rest and to get away from the gigantic mosquitoes that had tormented us at ground 1evel.
Soon thereafter, a rumbling sound woke us from our snoozing. It was a huge brown bear and her cub investigating the teepee of wood. In fact, Mama Bear liked what she saw; she began licking the oil that had spilled down the sides of the jerry can. Fearful that the bears might smell the open rations and thus attack the chopper or us, Charlie Maxwell lowered himself into the cabin just long enough to grab the long-handled ax used to chop down the trees. There was not enough time to reach our small handguns in any of our survival kits. Next thing, Mama Bear escorted her cub to the side (opposite the main cabin door) of the chopper and started sniffing the food. She then moved to the other side of the chopper, raised up on her hind legs and stared at us. Her head was above the top of the main cabin door; a massive animal capable of tearing up the helicopter. Carefully, very carefully, Charlie Maxwell raked the head of the ax along the roof or the helicopter; this seemed to annoy Mama Bear so she got down on all fours, glanced at us, and then nudged her cub to move on.
The two of them, Mama Bear and cub following right behind, walked about 25 feet away from the helicopter when Mama spotted a piece of rotor blade suspended in the branch of a tree. Again she rose up on her hind legs, grasped the piece of blade and tried to chew it. Not liking it, she shook her head, spit it out got back down on all four legs, and they disappeared. Regrettably, circumstances had prevented any of us reaching our cameras.
Subsequently we had an engine and rotor blades airlifted (slung) into the area and our maintenance troops did a super job under real bush conditions of putting 364 back together (Note: this is the same helicopter that Tom Garcia had his "Shaggy Bear Story" in 6 years later).