After separating for the active Army, I joined a Army National Guard unit in Meridian Mississippi. The 2348th heavy lift unit consisted of CH-54 Sky Cranes. The Sky Cranes, predecessors to the CH-47 Chinook. had the capacity of lifting a gross weight of 45,000 pounds. The most popular external loading option, referred to as a sling load had a one hundred-foot one-inch stranded cable that could be lowered or raised by a motorized drum. At the end of the cable an electrical hook was mounted to remotely open the hook to release the load.
The units mission, if war broke out, was to unload supplies from ships in the harbor expediting the unloading process. But during peace time the unit supported the activities of the State of Mississippi. These activities included Forrest fires, state infrastructure projects and any missions directed by the federal government.
On this particular day the mission was the reinforcement of an aging dam located on a large lake with crushed rock loaded into two three-yard dumpsters. The loaded doomsters would weight 18,000 pounds each. This mission required that the aircraft be flown from the aft facing pilot seat. The aft facing seat allowed the pilot to position the aircraft over the load while maintaining visual reference with the load.
On the ground a ground crewmember would ground the hook with a grounding rod and then attach the hook to the load. This grounding rod was very important. A helicopter of this weight would generate enough static electricity to create an electrical arch of up to three feet if not properly grounded. The arch not being deadly still scared the crap out of you.
As I was approaching the load the hook was swinging three feet from side to side. With the wind generated by the helicopter Sam, the newest member of the unit and the ground crew member, was having a hard time staying on top of the dumpster and grabbing the hook. The hook swung by Sam and with out thinking he grabbed the hook. As he attempted to connect the load to the hook a blue arch shot out from the hook. Sam threw his hands up and in doing so fell backwards off the dumpster impacting the ground with a large buff of dust.
I radioed him, “SAM, you alright.”
Shortly after my radio call Sam sat up from his prone position, shook his head, then said, “Damn. What a shocking helicopter experience.” Sam never forgot the grounding rod after that.
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