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Black Hawk Helicopter Over Kuffel Canyon

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Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2019 1:00 pm

A Black Hawk helicopter could be seen hovering above the Kuffel Canyon hillside on the morning of Oct. 22.

In cooperation with Southern California Edison (SCE), contractors from Danella and Blue Sky Helicopters began replacing hazardous electrical poles in the area. Director of Maintenance from Blue Sky Helicopters, Adrian Lyons, and Danella foreman, Jose Montoya, led their teams in the effort.

The replacement pole lay in a dirt lot, situated at the corner of Sunderland Court and Clearwater Lane. Lyons stood nearby as two pilots hovered above in the UH-60L “Lima” helicopter. Winds from the rotors swept debris from the surrounding area into the air. Bugs fluttered in the sunlight as a cloud of dirt rose onto the road. A water truck barreled down the road, blasting high-pressure streams onto the ground, attempting to keep further debris from hitting houses and blowing upward into the rotors.

Four-hundred feet uphill from the dirt lot, on a wooded slope located south of the Clearwater Lane cul-de-sac, the Danella crew tooled away on an old electric pole. They detached the electrical wires and loosened the earth that kept the pole in place.

As preparations finished, the Lima took its position above the old pole. A cable was dropped from the helicopter. After the ground team secured the cable, the helicopter hoisted the 3,500-pound pole above the tree line and into the air. It was flown over to the staging area where Lyons’ team guided it onto the ground. The team attached the replacement pole and it was flown back uphill.

The Danella crew toiled for an hour, reconnecting the power lines and successfully securing the pole.

“We get a job-plan weeks in advance,” Lyons said about the preparation. “They give us the location, the number of poles, the size of the poles, the weight. It’s up to us to determine which helicopter to use.”

The Lima is Blue Sky’s heavy-load helicopter. Built in 2004, the Lima was sourced from the United States military. Its dual-engines allow it to carry up to 9,000 lbs.

“The two-engine factor is good because it increases the safety margin a lot,” Lyons said.

On the day of the project, the Blue Sky Helicopter crew will begin their final preparations — sometimes as early as 4 or 5 a.m. Once ready, they depart from their headquarters in La Verne to the “landing zone” or staging area. Upon arrival, a “tailboard” meeting is conducted to discuss safety and the plan. Crews will double-check to make sure the homes near the project have been evacuated and then the work begins.

With over 5,000 hours of flying experience, the pilots are well-rehearsed in the high-precision, Tetris-like task of pole replacement.

“They pick it up and stand it up. Then, they want to center the helicopter right over the load. There’s a lot of skill, a lot of control that goes into it,” Lyons said.

“I’m watching to make sure that it’s not getting snagged on anything,” Lyons continued. “I want to make sure that it’s not going to [swing like a] pendulum once they pick it up.”

Lyons is in constant communication with his pilots and the Danella ground crew to facilitate a smooth job.

“We try to talk to the pilot before he gets here,” Montoya said. “Once it starts getting louder, it’s all chaos.”

The noise makes it nearly impossible for the ground crews to clearly hear through their radios. They resort to signaling with their hard hats — nodding of the head means “bring the pole up,” shaking means “comes down” and a hand out, away from the body means “steady.”

“It can be very dangerous,” Montoya said. “But this is a lot of fun.”

Blue Sky Helicopters and Danella will be continuing aerial pole replacement in the mountain communities through the end of the week. 

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