Excerpt from the Book – #5

Posted on January 31, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Excerpt from the Book – #5:

It was like trying to pick my way through a maze—only I was doing it in a helicopter, flying at 130 knots, barely 50 feet above the rugged Texas Hill Country landscape. The clouds were getting lower and lower, and every canyon into which we flew became a dead end.

We were desperately trying to reach the Lampasas River, where two men had driven their truck onto a flooded bridge and were now trapped in the rising water. The weather was deteriorating rapidly, and I had already considered aborting the mission several times during the flight from our home base in Austin. As I was hugging the deck, trying to find a way to reach our GPS coordinates and stay below the clouds, the surrounding hills were completely obscured.

Central Texas is notorious for flash floods, and over the years, my crew and I had rescued dozens of people from similar situations. I had been a STAR Flight pilot for two decades, and I had long ago learned that lousy weather was just part of the drill on rescue missions. Getting there was often the most difficult challenge.

We were definitely taking a circuitous route. Time after time, I saw an opportunity to turn toward our destination, only to be thwarted by the rising terrain in front of us. What looked like a clear path to the place where the men were trapped was repeatedly terminated in frustration at the end of a box canyon or a wall of dark clouds dipping all the way to the ground. It was looking like we would have to give up and turn around. Twenty minutes into the flight and forty miles from Austin, I wasn’t sure we could even make it back home.

I was almost ready to call it quits and land when—out of nowhere—the river suddenly appeared below us. Although we were still more than twenty miles from the flooded bridge, I knew we might be able to follow the river and stay beneath the base of the black clouds.

Skimming only a few feet above the surface of the river, my biggest concern now was power lines. The visibility was so bad that it would be almost impossible to see them unless I spotted the towers from which they were suspended. Instead of concentrating my search straight ahead, I scanned back and forth to either side of the river, which was about as far as I could see in the poor weather conditions. Several times, my crew and I saw towers on one side of the river, but only once did the wires actually cross our path. I slowed our airspeed and cautiously flew between the towers. We never actually saw the power lines, but we knew they were directly over us, concealed by the low-hanging clouds.

Finally, we rounded a bend in the river and spotted the bridge where the two men were trapped in the middle of the rapidly rising river. There was a crew of emergency personnel at one end of the bridge, but they had no way to reach the men, who had taken refuge in the bed of their pickup.

My crew chief quickly helped our rescuer rig himself to the hoist cable. As I rolled onto my final approach to the truck, he moved the rescuer outside the aircraft. With the help of my crew chief’s verbal commands, I maneuvered the helicopter into position while he lowered the rescuer to the flooded bridge. In only a few minutes, the first of the two men was hoisted from the back of the truck and into the helicopter. Moments later, we successfully hoisted the second man to safety as well. Shortly thereafter, their truck was swept from the bridge and carried downriver in the flood.

The men were fortunate my crew and I hadn’t surrendered to the weather and aborted the flight. Neither of the two knew how to swim—even if they had, their chances of survival would have been slim in the raging river.

Excerpt from the Book – #4

Posted on January 28, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public-Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Excerpt from the Book – #4:

. . . Sharon strained to climb up the tree, but the rope around her waist was holding her down. She frantically tried to free herself from it, but she couldn’t. Wallace kept shouting at her to keep her head out of the water.

“I’m trying!” she shouted back.

The water continued to rise around her and she had no way to move higher into the tree. Sharon closed her eyes as the rising water began to pound her face. Sharon knew she was about to drown. She remembered reading somewhere that drowning was a peaceful experience.

Then she thought to herself, How do they know that?

Instead of surrendering, she began to get angry, refusing to accept her seemingly inevitable fate. She thought about her husband.

He’s going to be pissed. I can’t leave him.

Then she thought about her children. She tried—desperately tried—one last time, to move up the trunk of the tree.

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve Finally Released

Posted on January 21, 2016

Good news:  The publisher released the book today through my author website.  Both the hardcover and paperback editions are now available at the website, and within a few  weeks, they will also be available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  We will be scheduling a book-signing event at the Texas Chili Parlor in Austin, probably at the end of February.  I’ll keep everyone posted.

Excerpt from the Book – #3

Posted on January 19, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public-Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Excerpt from the Book – #3:

My rational voice was shouting at me, telling me to turn the call down. My naval aviator voice was whispering in the background, telling me this was what I was trained to do. There was no getting around it, this was a moment that could define my career as a public-safety helicopter pilot—or possibly finish it.

Head still down, eyes still closed, I took a deep breath and forcefully exhaled. Dammit! I thought to myself. I didn’t come here to spend the whole night turning down rescue calls. If we can’t go get these people when they’re this close to our hangar, we should pack it up and go home.

When I opened my eyes and turned around, Chris Jones-Piercy was holding her radio up, waiting to relay my answer to the dispatcher.

“Let’s mount up!” I said.

Chris keyed her radio and said, “STAR Flight Two responding to FM 685 at Brushy Creek.”

Jim Allday hit the button that opened the hangar door, and as it opened, we were instantly drenched by wind-driven masses of rain—blowing straight in toward us.

Excerpt from the Book – #2

Posted on January 16, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public-Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Excerpt from the Book – #2:

. . . Leaning my face toward the tiny window in the hangar door, my hands and elbows resting against the cold metal surface, I could feel it shuddering from the wind and rain on the other side. As Jim and Chris patiently waited behind me, I closed my eyes and quietly gathered my thoughts for what must have been a full minute. It wasn’t just my life on the line. There were two more people, standing right behind me, who were depending on me to make the right call. Spanky Handley, who was my boss, had turned down two rescues at Shoal Creek just an hour earlier, and I had already cancelled one for weather myself. Jim and Chris probably figured I would cancel this one as well.

Still leaning against the hangar door, eyes still closed, I lowered my head. I reached with my right hand and nervously rubbed my hair back and forth. Then I pulled down hard on the back of my head until my chin was resting firmly against the top of my chest. I thought about the other people who were depending on me to make the right call—the three people in the water. They were seven minutes away from us, straight up FM 685, barely more than a takeoff and a landing from the hangar.

It felt as if I was trying to process a million thoughts at once, but it all came down to this: Do I launch into the teeth of the storm and place my crew in harm’s way, or do I play it safe and cancel? One thing was absolutely certain. Nobody was ever going to question me if I decided to take a pass in this weather—nobody except for me, that is. No matter which way I chose, there was a chance I would end up regretting my decision.

Excerpt from the Book – #1

Posted on January 13, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public-Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Excerpt from the Book – #1:

. . . In Austin, Texas, the 2001 winter solstice occurred on December 21, at 1:22 p.m. Central Standard Time. The night that began at official sunset that evening lasted thirteen hours and eleven minutes, making it the longest night of the year in the official astronomical records. For those of us at STAR Flight, however, the longest night of that year had already come—a little more than a month earlier, on November 15.

The events leading up to one of the worst floods ever seen by the residents of Central Texas actually began thirty-six hours prior to that night, when a slow-moving low-pressure system, packed with energy and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, stalled north and west of Austin. The massive complex of storms camped there for the next two and a half days. The torrential rains it produced over a large portion of the state resulted in twelve deaths and more than a billion dollars in property damage, making it the deadliest and costliest Texas storm since the infamous Galveston hurricane in December of 1900.

. . . The final eight miles of the route she had chosen took Sharon Zambrzycki south along FM 685, a heavily traveled four-lane highway.

When she reached the bridge that crosses Brushy Creek at around 6:00 p.m., Sharon was exactly 13.8 miles north of the STAR Flight hangar. She saw something in her headlights she had never seen there before that night—the water, normally fifteen feet below the bridge, was moving across the highway.

Kevin McDonald’s Favorite Books

Posted on January 10, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public-Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Kevin McDonald’s Favorite Books:

  • Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Scorched Earth by George Galdorisi (soon to be released) I had the pleasure of a sneak peak, and this book is top shelf!

  • The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouke

  • The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn

  • Twelve O’Clock High by Beirne Lay, Jr. and Sy Bartlett

  • The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe

Review of the Book by Igor Sikorsky

Posted on January 7, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Review of the Book by Igor Sikorsky:

After reading Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve, Igor Sikorsky, noted aviation historian and son of the man who invented the helicopter, had this to say:

“Kevin’s work is a warm, compassionate story of helicopters in rescue missions. I only wish my father could have read it, as it brought Father’s passion for the helicopter as an instrument for saving lives into reality. The author spent thirty-five years and logged more than eleven thousand hours of flight time as a naval aviator and public-safety helicopter pilot. Kevin’s is an admirable story of a life well lived.”

Dog Ear Publishing Award of Literary Excellence

Posted on January 4, 2016

Life Inside the Dead Man’s Curve – The Chronicles of a Public Safety Helicopter Pilot by Kevin McDonald

Dog Ear Publishing Award of Literary Excellence:

“This project was unbelievably good! It was suspenseful, supremely well written, kept me turning the pages till the very end. I can’t say enough good things about it!!!”

Christy Phillippe
Dog Ear Publishing Editor