NYPD chopper pilot and his crack crew of four pulled off a death-defying rescue of two West Point cadets who had become stranded upstate on an icy mountain ledge 850 feet above the Hudson River.
Every rescue unit in the area had turned down what seemed to be a suicide mission. As a last resort, local authorities called the NYPD for help.
“We were told if we don’t come up and get them, they would die up there. That kind of changes the parameters of whether or not to go,’’ recalled NYPD pilot Steve Browning of that frigid, February night with its 50-mph winds and near-zero temperatures.
Officer Browning, 53, had flown Black Hawks in the Army and, as an aviation cop, had made plenty of water rescues, but nothing compared to this mission as he flew the Aviation Unit’s Bell 412 Rescue helicopter to Storm King Mountain.
Detective Michael Sileo shouted navigational directions, and Browning steadied the chopper in whipping winds as Detective Fernando Almeida lowered ESU medic officer Detective Chris Condon 80 feet below on a horse collar.
Browning was fighting the winds. “There was only three feet of play. If I moved four or five feet, I would just pull someone off the cliff,’’ he said. “All I am trying not to do is crash into the mountain.”
Condon triaged the two freezing cadets and harnessed the one in the worst condition and signaled to bring him up, where he was met by ESU tactical medic Detective William Stevens.
They flew the cadet five miles to the military field and choppered back to rescue the second cadet and Condon.
“There was a reason we plucked these kids off the mountain,” Browning said.
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