THP Pilot Rescued 9 From Cummins Falls, Including Family Of Killed 73-Year-Old Woman

Posted at 7:19 PM, Jul 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-07 20:23:48-04

A helicopter pilot rescued nine people from flood waters at Cummins Falls on Wednesday, including family members of a 73-year-old woman who died after being swept away.

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Flying low enough that the aircraft's skids dipped into the water, Lt. Brad Lund of Tennessee Highway Patrol lifted multiple people from raging waters that threatened to sweep them downstream.

When Lund took off from the helipad near Nashville International Airport, he was headed to a search for a kidnapping suspect. However, shortly after finishing that assignment, he was called to a nearby water rescue.

"I was only about 10 minutes away from Cummins Falls," said Lund. He quickly moved over the falls, where the water had risen three or more feet in minutes. 

"I've never seen the falls, the water conditions like they were," he said. "I could see that there were people in the water."

Realizing the several dozen people were in danger, Lund first dropped life vests to a group of people standing in the water, holding onto each other. 

Since Lund was on a more routine call beforehand, he was using a helicopter not typically used in rescues. The Bell OH-58 was not equipped with lines to hoist flood victims to safety. So, Lund had one choice, make water level rescues directly into the helicopter with the help of a park ranger who had never been on a helicopter before.

"In this situation, there was no time to call for another aircraft, a better equipped aircraft. We just had to go with what we had." said Lund. "I lowered the helicopter down as low as I could get to them. At points we had the skids in the water and got as low as we could."

As the water rushed past the victims and the helicopter directly overhead, Lund was worried debris may catch the skids. Also, since none of the victims had experience with helicopters, he was worried they would be reluctant to get in. He said, Luckily, the people in the water did not hesitate to get into the aircraft.

Lund said he did not 73-year-old Peggy McDaniel, who was with one of the groups of people he rescued that day.
"She was swept away at about the exact moment that I was on station," Lund said.
Another concern for Lund upon entering the area were nearby cliffs and trees. The canyon walls were high and at some points he was hovering underneath overhanging trees. Also, increased water flow over the falls made visibility difficult.
"The mist from the falls had covered the windshield. So, it was really difficult to see out of the windshield," He said. Lund had to stick his head out of the side of the helicopter and use a camera mounted underneath the body of the aircraft to see where he was in relation to the water.
Two young girls he rescued from rocks in the river were thankful after the ordeal was over.
"It was phenomenal how well they did. They grab her and they take her," said mother Dawn Minkley. "It was the happiest moment of my life when they got them."