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Helicopter Pilot Commended For Bucket Rescue Incident

An Oregon helicopter pilot who rescued a firefighter from the Pole Creek Fire this summer says he feared for his job after the incident.  But a new Forest Service review commends both men for their quick thinking and decisive actions.

Joseph Berto rescued his firefighter colleague with a helicopter bucket.

Joseph Berto rescued his firefighter colleague with a helicopter bucket.

David Nogueras/OPB

Joseph Berto says he knew his colleague on the ground was in danger when the helicopter bucket drops started turning to mist before ever reaching the flames. 

Berto says his colleague, whose name hasn’t been released, couldn’t see that the fire was not only moving faster than he was but nearly had him surrounded.

“The air between him and the fire was shimmering,” says Berto. “It just felt like something really bad was going to happen.”

The colleague told investigators he disagreed with Berto’s assessment, but acknowledged the pilot had a better view and ultimately decided to climb into the bucket.  

“As I lifted him out I distinctly heard him say, ‘Now I see what you’re talking about.  Thank you,” said Berto.

The report’s authors called the maneuver, “unorthodox and creative, though not a use of of equipment we recommend becomes commonplace.”