Gary A. Kneeshaw helped to save Megan A. Rippy and André D. Doria from burning, Lakeside, California, August 21, 2010. Rippy and Doria, both 27, were climbing the steep, rugged, south face of El Cajon Mountain when a wildfire broke out near the mountain’s base and, fueled by vegetation, began to move up the slope toward them. As the fire advanced, trapping them, they called for help on a cellular telephone, allowing authorities to pinpoint their location. Having become aware of the climbers’ plight, Kneeshaw, 36, a deputy sheriff who was a tactical flight officer for his department’s air unit, accompanied a coworker who flew a helicopter to the mountain. Aided by one of the unit’s larger fire/rescue helicopters, they located the climbers. Despite dense smoke, which restricted visibility, fire-driven turbulence, and the steep face of the slope, the other deputy had to execute a landing in which only the front end of the helicopter’s skids could be braced against the mountain. With the rear of the craft extending over the slope, Kneeshaw left the cockpit, forfeiting his seat for the climbers. Because of limited space in the helicopter, weight considerations, and the craft’s tenuous positioning, the climbers could be rescued only one at a time. Rippy entered the helicopter and was flown to safety by the other deputy, with Kneeshaw remaining at the scene with Doria. In the other deputy’s absence, those men fled advancing flames by moving laterally on the mountain. Returning shortly to the hostile environment, the other deputy again maneuvered against the mountainside as embers entered the cockpit and smoke caused his eyes to tear. Doria took the passenger seat of the craft while Kneeshaw stood on a skid and leaned inside, Doria securing him by holding to his belt. The other deputy then flew away from the mountain to safety.
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