Helicopter Drilling

The Adventures of Louis and Jared is about exploring, and who better to do that with than with an exploration company?!  In my mid 20’s I spent some time with 2 mineral exploration company’s drilling in Alaska, Utah, and Nevada.  I worked my way up from drill helper, wondering what all the gauges and noises meant to driller and being able to hear my tubes hit bottom 2500’ down through vibrations in my hard hat!  And just as our bottom line is, there was a lot of sweating, occasional bleeding, and I even saw someone cry!  Here’s the story.

I started in the Granite Mountains on a small 1 rig job, 2 helpers and 2 drillers, rigs almost always run 24 hrs.  Flying the rig to the first drill site piece by piece was an issue due to elevation and the use of a smaller helicopter.  On a hot afternoon I was waiting at the site to receive one of the heavier pieces of the rig.  The chopper was coming in pretty high and as he began to descend I heard a strange wooshing sound above me, my eyes were on the rig component I was about to unhook.  The piece hit the ground hard so I looked up to see what the deal was and the chopper was spinning circles 50’ above me, the cable began to spool up at my feet.  Another quick glance up at the out of control chopper now only 30′ above me and I knew it was over, he was going to crash right on top of me!  I turned and ran as fast as I could but ran out of ground, we were drilling on a peak, so I jumped and covered my head when I rolled to a stop.  I expected to hear an explosion with rocks and metal flying everywhere but instead I heard nothing, nothing at all. I ran back up to the peak and looked over the other side and there was the chopper, hauling ass down the steep valley. The pilot came over the radio and apologized for dropping the load and said he had lost control of the tail rotar causing him to spin circles. He ended with, “I’m flying back to camp, be back with you in a few.” I’m sure he was going to camp for a clean change of underwear, I should have told him to grab me a pair while he was at it!
The ground was bad to drill in and we made very little depth, we completed 2 holes before the client cut their loses and before we ran out of fingers and ears.  My friend Franklin pinched half of his little finger off, I taped it back on and held it together with little sticks.  He later got it sewed back on but it doesn’t work anymore.  I slipped coming down from the rig to the LZ and banged my head on a rock, walked a few more steps and could feel something wet running down my neck onto my shoulder.  Cut a hole in the top of my ear so big I stuck my finger through it, man that hurt. That place had bad, bad luck.  Off to Rainy Pass now!
Rainy Pass, located west north west of Anchorage had much better drilling and was a little easier on our bodies, well except for mine.  The first year I was there I had to hold up a drill head transmission while my brother in law Luke got the bolts started.  I held that thing for just over a minute before I blew a wad of guts out below my belly button the size of half a soda can.  That was the end of my drilling for the year!  The next year was much smoother and we had a great time.

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Louis dumping core samples.

Once I dump the core and label the boxes with the footage they contain, it is flown back to the geologists core shack where they cut and inspect it.  Sometimes you pull some pretty neat looking rock up!

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Franklin listening for the tube to hit bottom.
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Louis leaving on foot to check the pump.

We often dealt with bears but never had to shoot one.  Sometimes my walk to the water pump would be over a mile round trip through dense brush, I kept the 12 gauge at the ready!  We could always see bears from the helicopter on the way to the rig, the chopper was generally enough to keep them away.

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Franklin just got zapped!

These loads carry a mean static charge and can really hurt you.  Notice Franklin’s glove flying off his hand!  If the load hit’s the ground it will de-energize but sometimes you have to get a hand on it to guide it to the right spot.  You see that basket coming and your thinking, “Oh man, this is gonna hurt!”

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Louis fueling the chopper.
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Chopper toed in on a steep slope.

Many places we drilled were to steep for an LZ so the pilot would stay powered up and “toe in” the front of the skids while we got in and out.  Effective but dangerous, notice if I continued walking straight to the chopper I’d walk right into the rotar, you have to be very aware at all times.

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Pilot watching load as he descends.
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Water pump being lowered onto creek bank.
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Franklin on the left, Louie up front, job well done!

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