A CH-47 helicopter was dispatched from Cal Guard’s Army Aviation Support Facility in Stockton, Calif. last Thursday with a mission to rescue three hikers on the contiguous United States’ highest peak. The three hikers had become stranded on the summit of Mt. Whitney near the final camp of the mountain’s 14,505-foot summit. They were forced to endure a night on the summit with cold temperatures and limited supplies.
The U.S. Army reports that the large helicopter could not land and had to hover near the final camp above 12,600 ft. The terrain was steep and rocky, forcing the pilot to perform what is known as a pinnacle landing—a landing where only the back wheels of the helicopter touch down and the rear ramp is lowered while the rest of the helicopter hovers above ground.
“We played that game of precise positioning for a couple minutes to even find a spot where we could safely get both wheels on the ground without a rock punching a hole in the aircraft or popping a tire,” U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Aaron Mello said. “When you’re on the pinnacle, you’re working really hard to not let the wind shove you off when it gusts,” Mello said. “Every limb you have is gainfully employed in making small adjustments to keep you where you need to be. “It’s like riding a unicycle and trying to juggle.”
Once all three hikers and the helicopter’s crew members were safely on board the aircraft, they flew to Bishop Airport in the Owens Valley where they were dropped off, according to a U.S. Army report. All hikers got to go home safely—except that they ended up taking an unexpected route home.