Salute to Excellence Awards

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Eric Bashta and Jerry Osterloh

On the night of Jan. 11, 2017, Eric Osterloh and Jerry Bashta responded to a call for assistance by a California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer who had stopped a suspected DUI/reckless driver. As the helicopter approached the scene, Tactical Flight Officer Osterloh observed the driver remove a rifle from the cab of his pickup truck and begin firing at the patrol officer and his vehicle.

Osterloh immediately broadcasted a call for assistance as the suspect emptied an entire magazine, returned to the truck to reload, and fired additional rounds into the driver’s door. He then returned to his vehicle and fled. The CHP officer radioed that he was uninjured, adding that the driver also had a woman and two children in the truck.

Bashta and Osterloh pursued the truck, keeping the helicopter’s spotlight trained upon it and broadcasting its location, speed, and direction over the radio. The suspect left the freeway and entered a suburban neighborhood, stopping in front of a residence. The driver then exited the vehicle and prepared an ambush for pursuing ground officers, firing at the arriving units. Using the FLIR camera, Osterloh directed SWAT officers toward the suspect’s location.

At that point, the suspect began firing at the helicopter orbiting 600 feet overhead, shooting 60 to 80 rounds at the deputies. The deputies held position, circling the suspect, and continued to broadcast his actions and location. The suspect entered the home, then came back outside repeatedly, seeking officers to shoot. Osterloh’s updates over the radio allowed officers on the ground to advance safely. After approximately 30 minutes, a SWAT deputy witnessed the suspect exit the building and engaged him, ending the threat.

Law enforcement officers believe the suspect intended this to be a murder/suicide. Due to the efforts of Bashta and Osterloh, no officers or members of the public were injured, and the suspect’s girlfriend and children were also uninjured.

Jonathan “JR” Roebuck

Jonathan “JR” Roebuck is being honored for his work in the creation of the Remote Access Project. Quickly locating and evacuating critically ill and injured patients in the remote areas of Maine is essential to survival. With an extensive Atlantic shoreline, hundreds of coastal islands, dense forests, mountains, and extreme temperatures, LifeFlight of Maine operates in one of the most complex aviation environments in the country.

In many cases, it previously took up to eight hours for a patient to reach a hospital. Roebuck oversaw the creation of more than 120 remote access landing zones (LZs), all on private land, that provide sites where helicopters can land to assist in rescue operations. In dire situations, minutes literally make a difference between life and death, and the Remote Access Project LZs provide helicopters with space to land in remote areas.

The importance of the LZs was proven during the rescue of an injured snowmobiler. The patient, a woman, had crashed her snowmobile into a 40-foot ravine and sustained critical injuries. Following the 911 call, responders dispatched a helicopter to the nearest Remote Access Project LZ, changing the destination during flight as more information became available. The LifeFlight of Maine helicopter landed just 50 yards from the patient, carrying medical personnel and vital emergency supplies. This would not have been possible if it were not for the strategically placed Remote Access Project LZ. The patient survived the horrific ordeal and has returned to work and snowmobiling.

Claude Vuichard

Claude Vuichard receives this award for his ongoing commitment to safe helicopter operations. He is best known for refining and promoting the Vuichard Recovery — a technique that trains helicopter pilots to recover from a condition known as “vortex ring state” with a minimal loss of altitude. In those conditions, the helicopter loses the ability to maintain lift and begins to descend. For more than 30 years, pilots have used the Vuichard Recovery to adjust their flight controls so that they exit the ring state by moving the aircraft to the side, thereby preserving as much altitude as possible.

The significance of the Vuichard Recovery technique within the helicopter industry is widespread. The International Helicopter Safety Team and U.S. Helicopter Safety Team have both published Airmanship Bulletins supporting its use, Robinson Helicopters has integrated the technique into its safety course, and helicopter operators around the world have adopted the procedure.

Vuichard took an early retirement from the Federal Office of Civil Aviation in Switzerland to conduct safety courses worldwide. Today, he continues to teach globally and to develop new techniques to improve helicopter flight safety, dedicating his retirement to reducing helicopter accidents and saving lives. He has also set up a nonprofit organization, the Vuichard Recovery Aviation Safety Foundation (, to further assist in spreading his message of helicopter safety.

Christchurch Helicopters

At two minutes past midnight on November 14, 2016, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook New Zealand’s South Island. Ruptures occurred on multiple fault lines in a complex sequence that lasted for about two minutes, causing massive landslides and destroying roads and rail links.

Crews from Christchurch Helicopters were among the first to arrive in Kaikoura, a seaside tourist community that was completely cut off from the rest of the country. Thousands of residents and tourists were stranded in an area with damaged infrastructure and no way of replenishing supplies. Within six hours, Christchurch Helicopters was transporting urban search and rescue personnel to Kaikoura and starting to rescue more than 130 stranded Chinese tourists.

Once the damage was assessed, New Zealand Civil Defense recognized that a coordinated aerial program was necessary to deliver vital supplies, continue evacuations, and support the recovery project. In addition to working on the project, Christchurch Helicopters worked with Civil Defense to coordinate the work of several helicopter companies. Among the work completed was transportation of roughly 1,300 workers, delivery of vital cancer medications, and flying a plumber to an isolated farmhouse where a young mother was stranded with her baby and no water or sewage.

The services provided by Christchurch Helicopters and the consortium of other operators was the largest air brigade in New Zealand history. While it tested the company to its limits, the team at Christchurch Helicopters stepped up to the challenge and maximized resource use to provide the greatest level of support. Coincidentally, just a few months after the earthquake, Christchurch Helicopter crews also saved lives and property in the Port Hills fires in Christchurch.

Maria Rodriguez

When the company Maria Rodriguez flew with for several years decided to move from the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) to the mainland United States, she chose to stay and open her own helicopter companies: Caribbean Buzz and Caribbean Buzz Management. As an owner/operator, Rodriguez and her husband manage a multi-aircraft operation that provides helicopter services throughout the Caribbean and yacht support operations around the globe, specializing in remote/adventure helicopter and seaplane support.

In late summer 2017, Maria’s home in the USVI was in the path of both major Caribbean hurricanes — Hurricane Irma first, followed by Hurricane Maria a few weeks later. With roads impassable after Hurricane Irma, Maria walked from the safe shelter to her home, which was battered and flooded but still standing. She hiked for an additional two hours to reach the airport. Her hangar was damaged, but the helicopters had survived unscathed. She rolled them onto the ramp and immediately began to fly support missions wherever she could. “Every evac flight started with tears,” says Maria, “but ended with smiles!"

As Hurricane Maria bore down upon her home again, Rodriguez moved her helicopters to a reinforced hangar in Puerto Rico. As quickly as possible after the storm passed, she returned to the USVI to again fly support missions.

In both instances, Maria documented the devastation to the islands with her camera, posting hundreds of photographs to social media. In turn, these images — often the only photos coming from the region and without compensation to Maria — were picked up by media outlets and reproduced throughout the world. Her images helped to convey the devastation sustained by her island home to millions around the world, resulting in forewarning to others in the hurricane’s path and waves of support for the devastated islands.

James Russell Spray

James Russell Spray’s career in aviation operations and management spans 53 years, including 42 years in executive administration. His career includes working as a helicopter pilot for Pacific Airmotive Corporation and as a helicopter flight instructor for Bell Helicopter Textron and Southern Airways, where he was responsible for the accident-free training of more than 500 pilots. He held the position of vice president of medical operations for Rocky Mountain Holdings, growing the Air Medical Services Division from seven helicopters and $3 million in revenue to more than $100 million in revenue per year with 90 aircraft. Spray later took over as chairman and CEO of Rocky Mountain.

More recently, Spray held the position of president and CEO of Safran Helicopter Engines USA, formerly Turbomeca USA, from 2003 until his retirement in late 2016. While he was with Safran, he concurrently held the positions of president and CEO of Microturbo, Inc., Turbomeca Canada, Ltd., and Sagem Avionics. During his tenure with Safran Helicopter Engines USA, the company doubled its number of employees, saw multiple facility expansions, was awarded two major military contracts, and developed or strengthened relationships with Airbus and Bell Helicopter.

Spray has also served as chairman of the Emergency Medical Services Committee for HAI (now Air Medical Services), was the co-sponsor of the American Society of Hospital Based Emergency Air Medical Systems (now called the Association of Air Medical Services), and has been an officer and member of numerous other boards and associations.

Dr. John Leerton

Since 1958, Dr. John Leverton has worked in the helicopter industry studying and promoting helicopters. Operators, manufacturers, pilots, helicopter owners, and various government and regulatory agencies have all been beneficiaries of his considerable knowledge and efforts in addressing helicopter and heliport issues.

Dr. Leverton has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, a master’s degree in acoustics, and a doctorate in helicopter aero-acoustics. He worked for Westland Helicopters Ltd in the United Kingdom until 1984 when he moved to the United States to work with Westland, Inc. In 1996, he retired and formed his own company.

His comprehensive understanding of the technical aspects of helicopter noise makes him very effective in addressing community noise issues. He has been an advisor/ consultant for many helicopter manufacturers, including Bell Helicopter, covering various aspects of noise measurement, environmental assessment issues, public acceptance of helicopters, and civil regulations.

He has published papers and given lectures on these subjects around the world and served as an advisor to the American Petroleum Institute and companies regarding development of guidelines for helidecks. Dr. Leverton also advised HAI on issues in helicopter noise and International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and FAA regulations.

Dr. Leverton also served as chair of numerous HAI committees, including Acoustics, Acoustics/ Environmental, Offshore, Heliport, and Fly Neighborly. He also served as director, vice president and advisor on infrastructure/ environmental development for American Helicopter Society International; International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations representative to ICAO on Annex 16; and International Federation of Helicopter Associations representative to the ICAO Aerodrome Panel and Heliport Design working group.

Robert Fournier & Trent Vick

Robert Fournier was just three years old when he saw a Sikorsky Skycrane lift Toronto’s CN Tower antenna. From then on, he was set on an aviation career. After spending five years flying various charter assignments in northern Canada, he took a position with Helicopter Transport Services (HTS), based in Ontario.

Trent Vick’s interest in aviation was sparked by a 2008 presentation on medical careers that included a fly-in by a helicopter air ambulance. Vick joined the U.S. Air Force in 2009 to fund his helicopter flight training at Hillsboro Aero Academy. After completing his commercial rating, he was hired by HTS as a seasonal S-61 copilot. He is also a flight instructor at Hillsboro.

Fournier and Vick's tireless efforts and outstanding professionalism helped contain the fire and keep it from progressing to nearby homes.

Fournier and Vick were paired on a call-when-needed contract, fighting fires all over the northwest. In the summer of 2016, they received an emergency dispatch to the Copper King Fire in Montana. Steep terrain and 50-knot winds made the fire difficult to control. The two pilots worked several long days dipping water from a nearby river. Their tireless efforts and outstanding professionalism helped contain the fire and kept it from progressing to nearby homes.

During their many water runs, Fournier and Vick noticed a small boy transfixed by the sight of the aircraft that was helping his firefighter dad. After their last flight, Fournier and Vick set out to find their fan. Each of them had chosen an aviation career because of a chance encounter when they were young, and they wanted to offer the little boy the same opportunity. Commenting on the pilots’ visit, the boy’s grandfather said, “I had already been impressed with their fire suppression skills. I am now more impressed with their hearts.”

Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith has dedicated countless hours to developing and advocating safety solutions for pilots and operators worldwide. A pilot since 1992, he flies helicopters for the Seminole County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office, where he serves as safety officer and instructor pilot. He has flown both fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft in law enforcement aviation for 11 years and has been a regular instructor at aviation events around the world for the last eight years.

Smith is also the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) safety program manager and works on the U.S. Helicopter Safety Team (USHST), where he has chaired the Safety Management System (SMS) Working Group and served on the Flight Training Working Group. He works as an instructor in aviation safety and SMS, law enforcement tactics, flight training, accident response planning, and unit management and marketing strategies.

Since 2012, Smith has supported ALEA members’ safety management and program development efforts, safety outreach and education, and development of risk management tools and resources. He also acted as liaison with other aviation safety organizations.

Smith led a volunter team of industry experts to help cut worldwide accident rates and implement safety management systems.

As chair of the USHST SMS Working Group, Smith led a volunteer team of industry experts to help cut worldwide accident rates and implement SMS. He continues to be an active contributor to this team and has published numerous articles in industry trade publications, most notably the “Real World SMS” series in ROTOR magazine, as well as Law Officer, Vertical 911, and ALEA’s Air Beat Magazine. He also gives regular safety presentations and leads safety courses around the world.

Era Search and Rescue

Era pioneered the first U.S. commercial search-and-rescue (SAR) program in partnership with Priority 1 Air Rescue (P1AR). Era’s SAR program has responded to more than 1,050 emergency calls from more than 70 companies in the Gulf of Mexico.

Operating three SAR-equipped AW139 medium helicopters from Houma, Louisiana, and Galveston, Texas, Era was the first emergency flight services provider to configure the AW139 for full SAR mission capabilities. As the only SAR provider that is medically licensed in Texas and Louisiana, Era’s program provides 24-hour offshore advanced life support medical care on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).

The SAR program is supported by four certified emergency medical dispatchers; 18 pilots qualified in instrument flight rules, night-vision goggles, air ambulance, and hoist rescues; and 36 P1AR medically qualified rescue specialists — making it the most comprehensive program serving the OCS. Era’s SAR program can support local, state, and federal crisis emergency response efforts for various emergency situations.

Era SAR is considered one of the world’s premier search and rescue operations, able to conduct emergency response in extreme environments. In 2015, Era participated in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Arctic Technology Evaluation on Alaska’s North Slope to identify the benefits of integrating manned and unmanned aerial systems in search and rescue missions.

Era Sar is considered one of the world's premier search and rescue operations, able to conduct emergency response in extreme environments.

The exercise showed the capabilities and expertise of participants in support of arctic SAR efforts and other such missions. Era AW139 SAR pilots worked with P1AR crews to establish interoperability among marine and aviation assets during recovery at the rescue scene.