TV helicopter crew rescues lost rafter

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“It was everything I had left in me,” David Stokes told his rescuers after they located him struggling to remain afloat. The misadventure began after his raft failed when he drifted away from a group of kayaking friends. The friends notified authorities and initiated their own search until darkness rolled in.

Dunn and Johnson got the call while they were hovering in the television station’s Bell 206L LongRanger over an FBI raid and broke off to help document the search. Law enforcement personnel had already launched drones, four-wheelers, and airboats, so the search was big news, Johnson told AOPA.

When they spotted him, Stokes was clinging to a branch with the water rushing around him, and he’d already been in the river for 20 hours.

Once Dunn maneuvered the LongRanger to a more favorable landing zone, Johnson made a dash for Stokes and “dragged him up to the shoreline.”

“That branch I grabbed a hold of, it broke. That was it. That was it,” Stokes told the news crew as he rested near the helicopter’s skids with a medical evacuation crew on the way. “Without your helicopter, knowing that you guys were landing … that was everything I had left in me, to get to the bank.” The exhausted swimmer said his arms were “on fire” when Johnson plucked him from the swift-moving current.

Dunn made the risky decision to land on the sand bank after a previous landing spot didn’t have access to the river. After touching down, “Superman Steve got out and yanked him out of the water, and the rest is history,” he said.

Although it was Dunn’s first helicopter-assisted human rescue, it wasn’t his first helicopter rodeo, so to speak.

In 2010 the longtime Oklahoma TV news station pilot used rotor wash from a different Bell helicopter to push a stranded calf from the middle of a frozen pond to the shore. A waiting resident proclaimed the December 27 save a “wonderful” Christmas gift.

Dunn discovered the ice-sliding maneuver by accident in 2007 when he flew close to a baby deer to get a visual angle on the critter. The ensuing windstorm generated by the rotor blades lifted—and then pushed—the fawn from icy Lake Thunderbird near Norman. Dunn was presented an award for the save from an animal rights group.

“I love the LongRanger,” he said. “It’s perfect for what we do. I flew a

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