Commissioners get chopper scare

The Kitsap County commissioners learned on Saturday that government can be sometimes a dangerous business. Snow forced their helicopter to land in rural Jefferson County and they had to hike a mile to civilization.

Chris Endresen. Patty Lent and Jan Angel boarded the helicopter at about 8:30 a.m. and headed toward a rendezvous with the USS John C. Stennis between Port Angeles and Port Townsend. The plan was to have a leisurely tour of the ship, eat lunch with the captain and arrive in Bremerton at 1:00 p.m.

Instead, the helicopter faced “white out” conditions after about 20 minutes in the air, resulting in zero visibility. They hovered for a short time, landing in a field near Quilcene and the Polk National Forest.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Endresen said. ”I trusted the pilots. They are real professionals.”

The helicopter was a few minutes behind another craft that carried several guests. The first helicopter was not hindered by the inclement weather and arrived on board in time for their scheduled lunch date.

The pilot left the engines running and a crew member hiked out to the first available house, occupied by Mike and Joy McFadden.

The crew member called the base to arrange alternate transportation, and Mike McFadden drove him as close to the site as was possible.

The crew brought the commissioners — along with former Silverdale Chamber of Commerce president Teresa Sims, back to the house.

The hike took about an hour, according to Endresen.

“The snow was the size of potato chips,” said Angel. “Chris and I didn’t have it so bad because we wore boots. Teresa and Patty were wearing loafers. We weren’t dressed for a hike — we were dressed for the ship.”

One of the helicopter’s four-man crew was a medical technician. The group also received assistance from two area residents, who heard the helicopter engines and came over to investigate.

The McFaddens served coffee and gave them the opportunity to dry off as they waited for the transportation.

The Navy sent a van to pick the group up, and they were on hand for the scheduled arrival of the ship.

McFadden said the helicopter flew out later Saturday afternoon after conditions improved.

“I’m retired Navy,” he said. “I’m used to this type of thing.”

Of the commissioners, McFadden said “I was impressed by their attitude. It was like this was an adventure for them.”

Angel, who has worked for corporations where top executives did not fly together for safety reasons, said the county has no such policy. “This might be something we need to talk about,” she said.

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