- Posted August 13, 2013 by
Team iReport featured this story
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Life in the early 1980s: Style and politics
Confessions of a Helicopter Hooker
She worked in Death Valley for three weeks as the only woman with a team of six men and a male pilot. She says she became one of the guys almost instantly. 'It took a day or two for them to adjust to me and we all agreed from the beginning that I wanted to be treated like one of the guys. When that was understood, we were all on equal footing,' she says. She says this great group of men made her an even stronger woman. There are many challenges to working in Death Valley and she says each one of the men took the time to teach her techniques so that she'd be able to survive in the desert.
As a recently divorced and a newly single mom, she says one of the biggest life lessons she learned that year was 'no matter what life threw at you, you could pick yourself back up and be a whole person again.'
What was life like for you in the early 80's? Share a photo of yourself from that time and tell us about what mattered to you then and now .
- Jamescia, CNN iReport producer
Never in my lifetime, did I think I would have a reason to write about my experience as being the first female helicopter hooker to arrive in Las Vegas. It was 1981 and I was at the heels of a divorce. The challenge of raising my two boys all on my own was facing me. With Ronald Reagan newly appointed President of the United States and a recession, what was I to do? Or what could I do, that I do best? The job of Helicopter Hooking flung its doors wide open to me and I said YES! YES! YES!
In my long full life, I've worn several hats, but this has to be the most fun and rewarding experience I've ever had. I know what you're thinking, how can she come clean and talk about this? But this being one of the high points of my life, next to the stall maneuvers that my flight instructor pulled on me in my seventh hour with fixed wing instruction (which took my breath away) hooking was tops.
My ex husband, a Commercial Helicopter and Fixed Wing Pilot, put me under a lot of pressure to stand up and do this job right. I had no choice, but to do it.
I know you're asking where does the hooking come in? I became a groundman (woman) for Action Helicopters in Las Vegas and the term "hooker" was used for my job description. One of my first duties, was standing underneath a helicopter while it hovered over my head. I then hooked a rope and or cable from the helicopter to whatever we were lifting into the air. What an exhilarating job. My ex and I were in the helicopter business, so I had years of experience. Even though I handled more of the paper work, I was hands on with helping with the ground work as well.
My photos show the story of working in Death Valley for three weeks with a fantastic ex Viet Nam Helicopter Pilot and a group of six men. When they first met me in the middle of the desert, they were leery and I had to prove myself. At first it wasn't easy keeping up with these guys, but I soon got the hang of it. We all would meet early in the morning and the pilot would take the men into the mountains and drop them off. These strong men were setting up stakes for silver mines. My job was to gather the stakes in a pile, attach a rope around them and hook them under the helicopter. After that I would run in front of the helicopter and give the pilot the okay to lift off. The pilot then would fly the stakes into the mountains for the crew to work into the ground.
Spending a lot of time at the base site by myself, the crew thought it best that I learn to handle a pistol, just in case a rattle snake decided to make an unexpected visit. I knew how to handle a 12 gauge, as my ex was a hunter, but a pistol a whole different story. They were patient with instructing me and I finally felt comfortable and safe.
These men taught me how to be a tough woMAN, and I so appreciate it to this day.
My other duty was to drive the van from my site in the middle of nowhere to Apple Valley, California to pick up Av Gas for the helicopter. Yes, I was also the one who fueled the ship. I think the hardest part of that job, was the drive in the rough terrain. If anyone has ever traveled the routes around Ridgecrest, California, you know what I mean. Traveling with Av Gas in my van and looking down the long cliffs and winding roads, was more than nerve racking. My knees would shake at times as I looked down the side of the road and noticed old rusted cars that didn't make the turn. Many wild donkeys along the way, so I thought to myself that I was assured a ride out, if need be. I had to be extremely careful with a load of Av Gas, as a crash would of ended very badly.
When returning early one morning from a very long drive to Apple Valley in the middle of the night, back to the desert site, I had a flat tire. I had to be about 20 miles away from my destination, all dirt road, if any road at all. At that time we had CB's. Yes "over" and "out". Obviously, I was out of range of the helicopter, so I began calling for help. I did receive one response and I felt uncomfortable, thinking I'm out here in the middle of nowhere, I better just hoof it all by myself. I thought, what if a miner needed a cook in the mountains at one of their camps, I would never see my boys again. So I stayed silent.. Still the woman in me, I had to take my purse with credit cards, a jug of water and a map to cover my head. I walked for about two miles, dropped my jug of water, but kept my purse (it was the heat that made me make the wrong decision). But it wasn't long until that beautiful helicopter came over the horizon to rescue me. My crew had become worried and started to look for me. They picked me up and put me in the helicopter, took me back to the van and proceeded to teach me how to change a tire! For years after that experience I NEVER carried a purse. Sometimes we're faced with important decisions: water or a purse in the middle of the desert! No one will ever care if you're carrying a Coach Bag when they find you on the road with NO water, more than likely in bad condition. That little life experience changed my priorities.
Throughout the years I've lost touch with these amazing men and the pilot who took me under their wings and taught me to be a successful Helicopter Hooker. Wish I could say thank you once again for teaching me how to survive in the wild on my own.
So many memories of the 80's and so many lessons learned. Thanks to my two boys Michael and Matthew for helping their mom survive the 80's. I never thought I would look back at these times, but I know these were just stepping stones to a better life.
(First photo of my son Michael and I at the airport. The last photo of my son Matthew and I as we continued our adventures and moved to California)
Note picture #3 I'm standing hooking under the helicopter :)
All pictures were scanned as they were long before digital.