Plan “C” is for Chopper

This story featured in the 2013 Buyer’s Guide issue.

Uganda-based river explorer Pete Meredith was responsible for the team’s last line of defense. Whenever the paddlers were in the crux, Meredith was waiting in the door of the A350 B3 helicopter hovering nearby, ready to leap into the river to extract a swimmer. Meredith combined rope skills he developed as a canyoneering guide with techniques he learned as a hostage rescue specialist during his two-year compulsory service in the South African military to develop this final rescue option.

The system gave him two rappelling options, one static, and the other dynamic. The static technique would allow Meredith to make a controlled rappel from the helicopter and coordinate with the pilots to catch the swimmer and clip a rescue line to the climbing harness that the paddlers wore at all times while on the river. The dynamic setup was a true hail mary—a 15-meter (49-foot) line designed to automatically arrest his descent in the last 3 meters. This would allow Meredith to jump from the helicopter to snatch a paddler from a dire and very immediate situation. Three times during the expedition, Meredith came within seconds of making the leap. “It was most certainly intense for all,” Meredith says. “The scale of this river didn’t allow for any other rescue platform.”

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