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 Originally written by TC 2006

(This story is located at Google Earth: "Lees Valley, New Zealand" lat=  43° 9'9.32"S, long=171°47'41.67"E)

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 "Weasel and Prince"

 

In the late seventies Prince joined the team at a cost of about $1000. This black Lab pooch (crossed with something else which must have been a Pointer) was worth his weight in gold when we were skimming around the freezing Lees Valley mountain sides in the enveloping gloom of first or last light.

Slouched in the RH front chin bubble on the B47G 3B1 – Prince could spot a deer out on the blurry dank tussock slopes a kilometer away when Weasel and I were still having trouble seeing the helicopter skids out of freezing alpine wind trying to ram itself through the doorways.

During daylight hours Prince earned a bonus dog biscuit whenever I dropped him and his devoted master out onto the top of a tree or rock to track down a deer which had managed to out maneuver us after we shot a tranquiliser dart into it and then run down into the thick scrub on the snow/tree line.

I could hear and home in on the continuous beeping of the dart in my locater headphones but couldn’t always see the animal and we had to get to the deer ASAP. If the drug took effect and the animal went down on the ground facing downhill on a steep slope, the deer, being a ruminant, could choke on its own bile and suffocate.

Weasel always had two similar battered old Thermos flasks beside him – one to hold the Fentaz filled 0.5 inch tranquiliser darts to stop them freezing and keep each dart’s radio transmitter batteries working; another for his coffee. He needed the coffee desperately some days after a night at the local pub followed by my flying having a dramatic effect on his constitution.

On those dreadful days, predictably about an hour after sun up at about 6000 Ft Above Sea Level, awful smells permeated through the cockpit. Even though the suspected source of the odours in the RH seat had an official “It wasn’t me” look on his face, the lack of other human passengers who could have been the source meant that I had to land quickly on a mountain ridge for Weasel to jump out, divest himself of his faded mandarin coloured motorcycle wet suit and perch on a ledge to fire off a load. I sat thankfully in the machine as it clattered away at ground idle drowning out the sounds coming from behind the machine associated with Weasel’s call of nature. Those in the know reckon the sound he made was similar to a number of those huge 5 metre long Tibetan monk horns all blasting quickly at once.

Whenever Prince sat up, barked and pointed we knew the action was on – there was a deer in the direction he was looking. Things then happened quickly as we went into capture mode and Weasel usually had one last swig of coffee. I always worried and had to have a quick look that he had grabbed the right thermos as I had seen him nearly drink a couple of sharp darts by mistake more than once in the past.

The closest I have ever come to becoming incapacitated and crashing happened after a prolonged period of heavy rain.

For five days I cleaned, polished and did every maintenance job I could find on the machine.

For five days Weasel was stuck in the bar in the pub making up for the days he had missed.

For five days Prince had to look after himself as Weasel couldn’t.

For five days Prince ate offal.

I could hear the rain clear on the tin roof at about 5 am on the Saturday morning. It was still pitch black and the cloud was low but the sound of the wind coming up meant the warm front was pushing the bad weather away. I phoned, waking up Weasel and telling him that the deer would be out on the tops later than normal so ETD was 0700 if the weather cleared. It did and we departed, though Weasel and Prince were very very quiet and didn’t quite seem “normal”.

The cloud was still on the high tops so I decided to “beat some bush” in a couple of gullies. This meant starting down in the creek bed and working in a semi circle from side to side as we gradually advanced up the mountain. The idea being to force any deer to run up the bush on the mountain side and then onto the open slopes where we could capture them.

All went well until the real tricky part. Maybe it was the five days of inactivity; maybe it was the helicopter being hit by the wind gusts as we worked the gully – who really knows what caused it to happen.

The gully had flattened out as it neared the open tussock tops and the head water was surrounded by a stand of beech trees. I caught a glimpse of a red deer hind trapped by trees and the cliff and small waterfall at the top of the gully. I yelled out to Weasel that I was going in under the tree branches so he could get a shot with the tranquilizer gun or even use the net gun if possible.

Inch by Inch I calculated and recalculated rotor clearance and the firing angle for Weasel to get a clear shot as the machine crept slowly up the creek. Leaves swirled around and through the bubble, in one door, out the other. My radar head went constantly from side to side, looking up on the second sweeps to check for dead or dodgy looking tree branches which might fall on us. It was tight work; I was concentrating so hard I was sweating. Then it happened.

A sudden awful gut wrenching indescribable smell invaded the cockpit. Realizing that it was in some ways familiar, I looked quickly to the right. Both Weasel and Prince were staring accusingly at each other with the “It wasn’t me” look.

The nearly lethal cocktail of simultaneous man and animal made odours made me gag. My eyes watered and blurred my vision, I couldn’t breathe, my hands clenched the controls, the machine rocked around and I thought that I was going to heave up my breakfast and loose consciousness all at once.

It was a miracle that we managed to extract ourselves by backing out from under the trees. The accidental little branches didn’t even mark the blades and the rocks only left small scratches under the skids.

Weasel and Prince disappeared for a long time into the scrub while I kept my hands warm on the turbocharger trying to stop them shaking from the cold.

Never again did this amazing phenomena of coincidental instantaneous emissions happen as the rains had finally stopped for the season.

Weasel enjoying nature from our parking spot on a cliff top.

Note the radio tracking aerial out the lower front for tracking a tranquilized deer via the dart's transmitter. I still have to find anyone as good as the respect I have for this bloke - a great shot with a rifle, tranquilizer pistol, tranquilizer rifle, net gun and nimble athlete who could get out and into the helicopter in any situation (into tree tops etc) while also having the gift of being able to work with wild animals.

True story

TC

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