Memories of daredevil
By Pat Christian
they weren't shooting
at us, I later told Division of Wildlife Resources pilot Clair Shaffer
after we were safely back on the ground.
I hadn't flown this close to the
covering the Vietnam war, where teenage pilots flew Hueys as if
were back in Modesto racing jalopies on a deserted road.
I remember too well the low and precise seat-of-the-pants flying in
and remember sometimes coming back with bullet holes in them.
Last week, I went on a "bombing"
in a Cessna with Division pilot Stephen Biggs.
He was playing Mother Nature dropping
trout into high Utah's Uinta Mountain lakes.
It didn't take us long before we
all our fish and began playing air tag with the other Cessna piloted by
Shaffer so I could get some photos.
finished dropping our load of fish.
Stephen and Clair's flying was
amazing, in and out of narrow alpine canyons and cliffs spectacularly
close and personal, palm sweating kind of flying.
Some targeted lakes were just too
to the jagged cliffs, challenging the pilots' skills if they want to
their fish in the lake and not on the shore.
It requires ridge-following,
skills that few pilots ever are called upon to practice, but I
saw either pilot miss their targets.
The pair reminded me of those
U.S. Air Force pilots who flew their own Cessnas and other small, slow
planes in Vietnam.
These forward spotters or
close to the ridges and trees trying to find the enemy, and usually
first clue was hot enemy gunfire. Calling those pilots targets
have been more accurate.
After our fish bombing mission,
and I popped over a ridge on our way back to the airport and found
staring at mass destruction.
In the wide, long alpine valley
miles of trees littered the ground like so many thousand Pick-up Sticks.
"It's not steep enough for an
I said over the intercom. "Could it be disease?
"Probably a big wind," Steve
Back at the airport, a DWR worker
"I understand it was the biggest tornado known to hit Utah."
He said he'd been told it happened
years ago and was at least twice as powerful as the one that struck
Lake City in 1999.
As we had flown over it, I told
sure wouldn't have liked to been flying over here when that wind
"Me too," he said.
published photographs by
A version of this story appeared in The Daily Herald.