A New York City Police Department helicopter crew braved fierce winds and darkness to rescue two West Point cadets from a mountain ledge where they were stranded 500 feet above ground for nearly eight hours.
According to the U.S. Military Academy, the two 20-year-old cadets were rappelling down the side of a mountain Saturday when they got stuck on the 18-inch ledge at about 6:30 p.m.
They were able to use their cell phones to call for help. Local firefighters responded to the mountain, but they were unable to reach the cadets.
In the meantime, they tied themselves to a tree branch jutting out between the rocks as they waited for more help to arrive.
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That vital help would come from nearby New York City, but the helicopter had to wait to take off until wind gusts as high as 60mph died down, according to NYPD aviation unit Capt. James Coan.
The chopper finally arrived at the scene at around 2 a.m. Coan said they were able to spot the cadets in the darkness using infrared devices and night vision goggles as the cadets slowly waved a lighted cell phone.
The helicopter steadied itself against winds exceeding 30 mph as it hovered about 80 feet above the men. The chopper's blades were just 20 feet from the rocks and trees. There was "absolutely no room for error," said Coan.
A rescue harness was dropped, and by 3 a.m. the cadets were brought onto the helicopter.
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They are recovering from hypothermia and other weather-related conditions, but otherwise they are fine.
"It was the most dangerous thing I've ever done in the police department," said Officer Steve Browning, who has flown helicopter missions for the NYPD for the past 14 years and in the U.S. Army for 14 years before that.