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.
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.