In addition to seeing helicopters and those who fly them, attendees to Saturday’s event became a part of history.
By Mary O’KEEFE
ero is a term used, at times, arbitrarily but last Saturday the term “hero” was the best way to describe the men and women who took part in the American Heroes Air Show.
As described by Jim Paules, executive producer, American Aviation Network, the air show “is not Hollywood.”
For years Paules has gathered helicopter pilots from a variety of agencies including law enforcement, fire and the military to be part of this event that allows the public to see up close and personal the helicopters that so many have only seen from a distance. But the event goes further and gives the public an opportunity to talk to the pilots and hear them share their stories.
Although it was a very hot day on Saturday, crowds still flocked to the helicopters at Hansen Dam – helicopters like the U.S. Air Force HH-60 Pave Hawk and the Black Hawk. The public also got a chance to see the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. Air Rescue 4. For those living in the foothills, Air Rescue 5 is a familiar sight, responding to everything from the Station Fire to search and rescues in the Angeles National Forest.
Reserve Deputy James Sully of the Aero Bureau is often flying as they search for lost hikers, missing persons and at times vehicles that go over the side of the Angeles Crest Highway.
When a call goes out concerning a missing person or hiker, Sully and his team follow certain steps before they take flight.
“We [look into] who the person is that is missing,” he said. He tries to determine whether that person or people are lost or are missing and suspected to be in the area. If it is a hiker that is missing, Sully said that the hiker’s experience level is also taken into consideration.
The Air Rescue 5 crew works closely with the search and rescue teams on the ground. It is information from the teams and the local sheriff’s station that will determine the most likely area the hikers will be found in.
As ground crews walk the search area, Air 5 will fly over the mountains looking for any out-of-the-ordinary sign. They have equipment like cameras and infrared instruments, but Sully said it is their experience that is valuable in the search.
Although one person can pilot Air 4 there are two deputies in the cockpit as well.
At times the helicopter will pick up search and rescue team members and carry them to the top of a trail so they can search downhill while other members cover the trail going up.
Once a lost hiker or hikers are found then it is determined if they need emergency medical assistance. If they are in critical condition, a paramedic will be hoisted down and the patient will then be airlifted to a local hospital.
“Most of the time we are looking out the window,” Sully said of searches.
Patrol helicopters are in the air to support the “black and white” patrol units. But flying over the mountains in the Angeles National Forest is not easy.
“It’s not the same as flying over the street … it is inherently dangerous,” Sully said. “There are a lot of crosswinds.”
Sully and Air 5 were a popular attraction for many at the air show but this year there was something new that added to the American theme. In addition to booths manned by law enforcement, fire personnel, American military veterans and Daughters of the American Revolution, there was a Certificate of Citizenship ceremony.
About 30 kids at the air show took the oath to become United States citizens. Their parents had gone through the process of naturalization and on Saturday it was the children’s turn to raise their right hand to say the Oath of Allegiance.
Emir Paul’s country of origin is the Philippines. He is an 18-year-old who plans on joining the Navy.
When asked what he was feeling he answered, “excited” about taking the oath but didn’t think that much would change because from his point of view he has been a member of the U.S. since he was young.
“This is the first time our agency [in California] has been invited to the event,” said Roland Lyons, field office director for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. “We wanted to highlight the contributions of [immigrants].”
To do so the agency invited two guest speakers, CW5 Mirko Duvnjak, California Air Guard out of Los Alamitos, and Lt. Johnny Chanchang, U.S. Navy Reserve.
Chanchang has served in the Navy for 15 years; 10 years ago he became a U.S. citizen.
“That opened doors for me,” he said. He was able to promote in the service.
“It changed my life,” he added. “I am proud to be an American.”
Chanchang was born in Thailand. He said once he became a citizen he felt like he “belonged to something.”
“It feels exciting,” said a very articulate 11-year-old named Mehrnaz Bastani. “I am happy to be here.”
Both her parents had gone through the naturalization process and were proud their daughter was about to take the oath on Saturday.
Mehrnaz is planning on being a dentist and “an explorer.”
“It feels good but a little sad,” Mehrnaz said. “[It means] I am growing up.”