Rodney D. Snider saved Darrel J. Peterson and 19 others, from suffocation, Elk City, Idaho, August 4,1961. In a dense evergreen forest, Peterson, 32, firefighter squad leader, and the other firefighters who had landed by parachute were cut off from escape as winds of 40 to 60 m.p.h. spread the flames which they were fighting. All made their way to where a clearing 180 feet long and 120 feet wide had been made in the forest. Flames in trees rose as much as 150 feet above the ground and completely surrounded the clearing, causing the temperature to rise to 125 degrees. All of the men were fatigued and partially dehydrated, and some were temporarily blinded. Dense smoke almost caused them to suffocate, and the smoldering ashes that covered the ground forced them to move constantly to keep from burning their feet. Some of the men sustained burns. A forest ranger was taken to the area in a helicopter piloted by Snider, 31, helicopter pilot. The smoke generally prohibited observation, but during a shift in the winds Snider briefly caught sight of the men. Because he feared the lives of the men were in serious danger, Snider decided to try to land in the clearing, which was covered with tree stumps. When an opening appeared in the smoke, Snider piloted the helicopter to 750 feet above the clearing, where the craft went out of control in the strong downdrafts and dropped rapidly to 50 feet above the ground. Snider then regained control and landed the craft. The bottom of the plastic bubble-type cabin was only 18 inches above the smoldering ground, and the helicopter, which then contained about 40 gallons of gasoline, soon became hot. The ranger remained with the men. Taking aboard the two men in the worst condition, Snider lifted the craft from the ground. The strong winds blew the helicopter into the dense smoke, and the violent upward currents lifted the craft rapidly. Flying by instrument, Snider reached clear air. He then piloted the helicopter to a landing area three miles away, where he left the two firefighters and returned to the clearing. On each trip he had to hover 10 minutes or more while waiting for an opening in the dense smoke. Two men got into the cabin, and two others lay in the cargo baskets. Although the craft was overloaded, Snider lifted the helicopter from the clearing by utilizing the strong updrafts, ascended through the smoke, and took the four men to the landing area. Following the same procedure, Snider in four more trips removed all of the firefighters and the ranger. The fire continued burning for five days. Some of the men were hospitalized for burns and respiratory damage, but all recovered.
45717 – 456045717-4560