Sunday, September 10, 2017

Buzz Over Adirondack High Peaks Helicopter Tours

A Go Aviation helicopter flies low over Duck Hole in the High Peaks Wilderness. Chip Moeser hiked fifteen miles from Lake Placid in early July to spend the night at Duck Hole deep in the High Peaks Wilderness. He was looking for quiet, but in the late afternoon, a helicopter started descending from overhead.

“It was coming in like it was going to land,” Moeser said, adding that it got as close as ten feet to the ground before taking off.

At first, he had assumed it was a state helicopter. In fact, it was owned by Go Aviation, which this summer started flying helicopter tours out of Lake Placid and Lake Clear.

“It’s pretty upsetting,” Moeser told the Adirondack Explorer. “It’s a lot of work to hike to places like that, and you do it to get away from things like that.”

When he returned from his trip, he posted a photo of the helicopter on the Aspiring Adirondack 46ers Facebook page. “My intent wasn’t to start any beef. I was just curious what the rules were,” he said.

But the post set off a torrent of outrage that a helicopter would be flying so low over the Wilderness Area. It also drew the attention of Go Aviation employees, who defended the company.

Brendan Carberry, Go Aviation’s vice president of operations, told the Explorer that the pilot saw a bright light that he thought might be a signal mirror and flew low for a closer look in case there was a person in need of help.

“We’re actually required to make our best effort to check that stuff out,” he said. “That’s the only time we popped down close to any Wilderness Areas.”

But that’s not how it appeared to Moeser, who took a photo with his cell phone. He said he was the only person in the area. “It looked like they saw me and took off,” he said.

Carberry said the pilot had seen another group at Duck Hole, not just Moeser, and flew low to make sure they were all right. He rebutted Moeser’s implication that the pilot didn’t want to be seen.

“If he was looking to get away from being photographed, I don’t think he would have flown toward the guy taking the pictures,” Carberry said. “There is nothing to hide. The tail numbers are visible. If someone takes a picture and reports it, that’s totally fine. I understand people’s concern.”

Airspace over the Adirondack Park is managed by the Federal Aviation Administration, but there are no minimum height requirements for planes or helicopters when flying over wilderness areas. However, the FAA’s recommended minimum height for planes and helicopters flying over “noise-sensitive areas” — such as parks and wilderness areas — is two thousand feet. The guideline is voluntary.

Carberry said Go Aviation’s helicopter pilots normally do fly above two thousand feet when over the backcountry in the Adirondack Park, but descriptions of tours on the company’s website suggest otherwise.

For example, here’s the description of a thirty-mile tour called the Ridge Rider: “Fly low over the treetops of the Mackenzie Mountain Wilderness Area where views stretch from 100 feet to 80 miles in the blink of an eye and then head back to the airport following the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highways.”

Another tour, the Adirondack Heli-Safari, aims to give passengers a chance to see moose, bear, deer, and other wildlife in their natural habitat — “flying low and slow over the Raquette River while keeping an eye out for antlers amongst the foliage.”

And the company says copters on its Lake Placid/High Peaks tour will fly “up to a height of 1000 feet.”

A Go Aviation helicopter. Asked about these descriptions, Carberry said low is a subjective term. “When people think of flying, they think of being in a big airliner thirty thousand feet off the ground. Flying 1,500 to two thousand feet off the ground feels quite low, especially if we go over toward Whiteface, and you’re two thousand feet and the top of the mountain is still level with you.” He clarified that the helicopter will be as low as 1,500 feet only when flying over a hill.

As of early August, Go Aviation, operating as Adirondack Heli Tours, had flown about twenty-five to thirty times in the Adirondack Park, Carberry said.

Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said the council received complaints in June about low flights over the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness, though he doesn’t know if they were Go Aviation helicopters. He hasn’t heard any complaints since. “The idea that someone might operate at treetop level is discouraging,” Sheehan said.

Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said a company video shared on social media appears to have been taken close to the treetops. “Obviously that kind of flying would be very, very disturbing in an area that is supposed to be motorless and motor-free,” he said.

Carberry said the video was shot from a drone, not a helicopter, which he described as a marketing mistake. “Naively, we didn’t think about marketing what could potentially be a huge annoyance, but we were just kind of excited about our new venture,” he said.

He said the helicopters often follow routes that have been used for years by private pilots in small planes and by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “We’re going places that people are already flying to begin with,” he said.

Carberry chalked up a lot of the negative reaction to the way the tours have been marketed. “People didn’t already realize we’d already been there,” he said. “There’s already lots of air traffic above the Park that goes unnoticed. The marketing made it seem as if the business was going to be kind of a new kind of nuisance or intrusion, and that certainly wasn’t our intention. We’re just excited about flying.”

Both Woodworth and Sheehan said they are not out to drive Adirondack Heli Tours out of business. Rather, they are concerned that low-level flights could disturb hikers and wildlife.

“It’s a great way to see the Adirondacks in places where it won’t disturb wildlife, and it can be a very effective scientific research tool for getting a good sense of tree cover, forest practices, whether logging is being carried out in a sensitive manner, and in cases of insect infestation when you’re trying to judge what’s happening,” Sheehan said. “There are lots of very beneficial possibilities for having that service in Lake Placid. The one thing we were concerned about is the possible disturbance over wilderness.”

Woodworth, like others interviewed, said he would not object to Wilderness Area flights that are above two thousand feet. He added, however, that “the more they fly outside our Wilderness Areas the better. We would hope that they would go along with the spirit of the State Land Master Plan and not disturb Wilderness Areas.”

Environmentalists are less concerned with flights over Wild Forest Areas, where some motorized use is permitted, though even these areas may have remote places where helicopter noise could be a disturbance.

“In Wild Forest it may be appropriate to fly in some places at lower heights,” Sheehan said. “There are some sensitive areas of Wild Forest that pilots ought to familiarize themselves with and maybe avoid them as much as they can, but a lot of this can be resolved with some basic education and understanding of the resource their customers want to see.”

Go Aviation also operates tours for special events, such as bass-fishing tournaments on Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. However, helicopter tours are a small part of its business. It also runs an aircraft-maintenance business at a hangar at the Lake Clear airport.

The company intended to run tours out of the Lake Placid airport, but suspended those after a dispute with the town of North Elba. Currently, it is operating only out of Lake Clear when doing Adirondack-based tours. North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said Go Aviation set up a motor-home office at the Lake Placid airport without permission and was told to leave.

Carberry described the conflict with the town as a misunderstanding. He said pilots have the right to pick up and drop off passengers at the airport, and the company hopes to resume flights out of Lake Placid when they come to agreement with town officials.

Steve Short, the manager of the Lake Placid airport, said local residents had complained about the noise from the helicopters. The operation also was criticized in letters to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

“Helicopters are kind of a fun thing and they are kind of useful for some things, but I’m not sure what their place is in a place like the Adirondacks where a lot of people don’t like to be disturbed too much when they are out in the wilderness,” Short said.

Short leases the airport from the town and runs his own sightseeing business there, Adirondack Scenic Flights, which offers tours in small planes.

Sheehan said he hasn’t heard any complaints about sightseeing planes. “Airplanes tend to like to stay up higher than that if they can because they think it’s safer,” Sheehan said.

Carberry said Go Aviation has received no complaints running its tours out of Lake Clear, and said helicopters also like to stay up high when flying in the backcountry for safety. He encouraged people with concerns to reach out to the company. “Anytime someone reaches out to us with noise complaints, we certainly try to address it,” Carberry said.

Photos from above: A Go Aviation helicopter flies low over Duck Hole in the High Peaks Wilderness, courtesy Chip Moeser; and Go Aviation helicopter, courtesy Brendan Carberry.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.


Mike Lynch

Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues.

Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine.

From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake.

Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at mike@adirondackexplorer.org.




57 Responses

  1. Eagleye says:

    Sounds like Carberry has all the answers, no matter what the question.

  2. Linda M. says:

    If you go to their website, they have videos of low flying planes,skimming tree tops. Certainly NOT 2000 ft. above ground surface. A recent article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise describes these guys as arrogant and operating above the law (setting up office in an airport parking lot without even asking for permission). People come to the Adirondacks for a host of reasons, but I would venture it is safe to say that solitude and peace are top priorities. If I hike 10 miles, either in wild forest or wilderness, and get buzzed by some frat boy in a plane, you can rest assured I will not return to the Adirondacks any time soon.

  3. Mitch Edelstein says:

    I live in Raquette Lake year-round. Military flights are more disturbing as they are louder and tend to fly very low and orbit over areas. They also fly at night which sightseeing flights obviously don’t do.

  4. Joe Bode says:

    First it’s sea planes now helicopters and god forbid our military uses the area for training.

    I propose that the state halts all flights over the park including Medivac and State Police so if any hikes, including myself get injuries that require air extraction, well, we are out of luck. Going have to be carried down the trail on a backboard and hopefully the rangers get you out in time. Looks like I’ll save weight now in my backpack and I will have no use for the mirror to get an aircraft attention if I’m in trouble. . I’ll get rid of my whistle also do I won’t disturbe Mr Mosers ” quite time” if I’m in trouble. I’ll just whisper ” help me”

    Just unbelievable how the ” forever quiet” people think the park is just for them.

    I

    • Todd Eastman says:

      Quiet is a resource and a monetary value can be attached to it in robust economic analyses…

    • Boreas says:

      “Just unbelievable how the ” forever quiet” people think the park is just for them.”

      Well, yes, what else is left?? If you can’t find peace in a Forest Preserve, why preserve it? Should I assume development, pavement, vehicles, and chaos are your goals for the Park?

  5. Taras says:

    On August 16th, while ascending Marcy’s south side, at an elevation of ~ 5100 feet (~250 feet below Marcy’s summit), we watched a (non-military) helicopter fly *below* us from the east, traverse the saddle between Marcy and Skylight, then rise to circle the summit of Marcy. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo nor its identification number. I spoke to the summit steward and she confirmed the helicopter had flown far too low. Unfortunately, she could not get to her camera in time to record the incident (but indicated she would report it nevertheless).

    The helicopter was dark green with yellow registration numbers. My best guess is the model was a Robinson R44. I don’t know which outfit flies green R44’s.

    I contacted the DEC and spoke to the ranger responsible for the region. He indicated it was an FAA violation but not much could be done without the helicopter’s number. He explained an aircraft flying lower than 500 feet above populated areas, and he stressed Marcy was considered “populated”, was violating an FAA regulation.

    We were on Marcy’s south side, only ~250′ below its summit and the helicopter appeared not as an unobtrusive object in the sky, like most fixed-wing aircraft run by tour operators, but close enough to read its ID numbers and cause an intrusive noise over the entire summit.

    It’s unclear who was operating the helicopter. It if was official business, it was unknown to the region’s ranger. If it was a tour operator, their behavior is casting a pall over on their industry.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robinson_R44

    • Boreas says:

      I’m no expert, but the pix in this article look like white Robinsons. That being said, your link states that the R44 is the most popular helicopter used by general aviation, which makes it tough to narrow down. But how many green R44s are based locally? If there is one or more locally, then you certainly have a suspect. If there are none, then we have to expand our suspicion to operators within the flight range of the aircraft (350 miles, or about a 150 mile radius of Marcy).

      All the FAA has to do is a little footwork to check any flight plans of green Robinsons operated from local airports. I suppose a private citizen or DEC can obtain the same records, if interested. It may not result in a citation, but could be enough to put the operator(s) on alert. But I doubt it would have any effect on this type of operation until they are actually grounded. I guess Summit Stewards and Rangers have yet another task added to their busy slates.

    • Paul says:

      If it didn’t land, what law did it break and what are you reporting?

      • Boreas says:

        Paul,

        I can think of 2 right off hand. Public endangerment and gravity.

        Any pilot realizes – especially helicopter pilots – the lower you fly, the less chance you have to recover from a human error, mechanical error, or weather. Mountainous ares are notorious for unexpected wind gusts. A gust that may tip a light helicopter a degree or two can drop the rotors several feet in that direction. That’s why people duck when under helicopter rotors. Birdstrikes are more common at low altitudes – often because of the aircraft flushing birds. Any serious mechanical problem requires time and altitude to recover.

        There is a reason for FAA altitude guidelines – to give pilots and their clients as well as people/property on the ground the largest margin of safety that is practical. Thrill-seeking people and pilots who cater to them can be quite a hazard to people and wildlife under them. Why wait for a crash and likely fatalities to get serious about the issue?

        • Paul says:

          Thanks, I get all that but what is the specific law? Is there anything you could have charged the pilot with? Helicopters fly low and land on National Forest land all the time as part of their business (Heli-ski). Here in the Adirondacks isn’t it illegal to land but okay otherwise (as long as you take off from somewhere else like and airport)? I get all the safety reasons to stay higher.

  6. Tim says:

    No helicopters over wilderness except for emergencies.

    • Boreas says:

      I agree – at least hovering and circling below their ceiling. Most of us are pretty oblivious and accepting of aircraft passing far overhead. That isn’t what this is about. Any aircraft hovering, passing, or circling “on the deck” is quite obtrusive whether in the urban areas or wilderness. That is why we have regulations forbidding it. I think most of us are cool with emergency S&R, but have less acceptance of unlawful behavior for profit.

  7. Bruce says:

    In the 80’s there was a gentleman ((I forget his name) who traveled all over the world trying to find and record places where nature could be heard, especially the Dawn Chorus, without any discernible human sounds. So far as I know, he’s still at it, and the last I heard was there was no place in the world where that was possible. Discernible human sounds included planes passing overhead, sounds of human habitation whether rural or urban, distant vehicles, metallic sounds, etc.

    John Warren has said there is no place in the AP where a public road is more than 5 miles away, therefore finding real solitude in the AP will be difficult, or is not likely to last long if found.

    As far as tour helicopters investigating possible ground signals, why do we have such a problem with that? If I were lost or incapacitated in a wilderness area I would try to signal every passing aircraft, and not concern myself about that aircraft coming close and disturbing someone else’s solitude.

    This is not to say there are not irresponsible tour operators, trying to give customers a little thrill or a better photograph, and It’s far safer for the military to practice necessary low-level maneuvers over uninhabited areas.

  8. Bruce says:

    BTW, most people are poor judges of distance and perspective, with it becoming harder to do the further away the subject is. The TV show “Monster Quest” has shown conclusively how unreliable judging distance and size in videos is, especially when not taken from directly above.

    • Boreas says:

      Bruce,

      This is why it is important to get ID numbers. There is a limit to what distance they can be seen. I don’t know what that is – and obviously can vary with conditions – but it can certainly contribute to a conviction. But even aircraft descriptions coupled with time, place, and flight plans can narrow down the search immensely without ID. It may not result in a conviction, but possibly a stern warning and possibly their welcome at their operating airport.

  9. Chris says:

    “Go Aviation owner and Lake Placid resident Michael Klein said is the company’s most popular choice, the $100 “Ridge Rider Tour,” where helicopters fly low over the treetops of the McKenzie Mountain Wilderness Area.”

    Seems this is a new project per http://www.adirondackdailyenterprise.com/news/local-news/2017/06/airport-battle-brews

  10. Paul says:

    Given the high peaks numbers this summer it doesn’t look the choppers are having much of a negative impact on users numbers yet!

    People that use the wilderness to make their living are usually pretty easy to convince that it needs to stay that way. I wouldn’t flip out here.

    ADK buzzes the wilderness with a huge helicopter that hovers for a long time above John’s Brook Lodge each year as they take stuff in and out in barrels. Funny I have never seen any complaints about that?

    • Taras says:

      Having witnessed a helicopter circling Marcy at close range, I can tell you it was a “negative experience”. It’s not something I wish to see repeated in any Wilderness area.

      Your JBL example is comparing apples to oranges. Johns Brook Lodge is located on a large patch of private land. The helicopter is making pickups from a private inholding, undoubtedly with DEC approval. Plus it happens once/twice a year.

      The Duck Hole incident was in a Wilderness area and not on any official business sanctioned by the DEC. Similarly the Marcy incident was in a Wilderness area and, again, not for any (known) official business permitted by the DEC.

      Even official DEC business, involving helicopter deliveries of materials for trail maintenance, occurs very infrequently to Wilderness areas.

      Helicopter tours are a recent addition and, within short-order, are setting a bad example. I want them to succeed but not by violating DEC and FAA regulations.

      • Chris says:

        Don’t feed the Trolls.

        Anyone comparing Go-Aviation’s selfishness to supplying a camp that supports thousands of people in the wilderness is baiting with “false equivalence” on purpose.

        • John Warren John Warren says:

          Yes, please don’t feed our troll.

          John Warren
          Founder & Editor

          • Boreas says:

            Jeesh – if Paul is a troll, I guess that makes me a troll and a half. I disagree with Paul much of the time, but at least he generally is polite and thoughtful. I guess we are just well-behaved trolls?

            • John Warren John Warren says:

              Paul is the king. He’s been at this like ten years. Seen a lot of scrapes. Cast his line many times.

              • Paul says:

                John, I think you give folks a great forum here. You are more than fair. Many of my comments have little to do with my own personal opinions but more to do with the debate. It’s interesting. Folks like Boreas and I agree on many levels if you look at what I personally would advocate for if I wanted to go there. On this topic as an example. The idea of choppers buzzing the high peaks is not something that I would personally support. Can we enforce that via FAA regulations? Probably not very well. I think you will see here that, like drones, you have a new thing that we probably are not prepared to deal with.

        • Paul says:

          Chris, I didn’t say they were equivalent. I was just noting that it goes on and that nobody seems to concerned about it. Seems like 9 hours of low level flights over wilderness areas that surround JBL could have some of the same negative impacts that folks here are concerned about. They don’t just drop straight down to JBL’s small inholding.

  11. Paul says:

    9 plus hours (as described by the lodge manager) of buzzing to get stuff into JBL. Here is a youtube video with cool music added:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4c4UzT7bUTQ

    • Taras says:

      Yep, official business. Delivery/pickup to/from private inholding. No comparison to a tour operator touching down in Duck Hole or circling Marcy’s summit.

      No surprise there are no complaints about that, nor about helicopter rescues, because they’re official business and not joy-rides.

      Helicopter rescues:
      From JBL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dv7TF2xrkG0

      From Algonquin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDm7adqq3R0

      From Dix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpDkGHoNYmk

      • Paul says:

        If low-level flights are what their business is offering (as bad an idea as that might be) then it is as “official” as ADK supplying a private lodge.

        • Taras says:

          That’s a profoundly illogical statement and does nothing to rebut allegations of you being the resident troll.

          • Paul says:

            How is it illogical – one company (ADK) uses helicopters at low elevations to ferry their supplies as part of their commercial business (fine with me) and that this GO company uses helicopters at low elevations to ferry their passengers as part of their commercial business. When I hear the term “official” business I usually think about the search and rescue type flights done by a governmental entity, not the commercial stuff as both of these other example clearly are.

            Here is what they say at Google:

            “”Official business” means any matter over which a governmental body has any authority, administrative duties, or advisory duties.”

            • Taras says:

              Haha! Now I know you’re toying with me because no one can be so ignorant to believe the false equivalence of your very first sentence. Nice try, Troll in Chief! Better luck next time.

              • Paul says:

                Both commercial, and both flying at low elevations in helicopters above the HPW. ADK – I think – is a not-for-profit but that only has tax implications. What do you see as the difference? I can only see why they are making the flights. The entity with jurisdiction here (FAA) I don’t think cares. Safety is their main priority.

  12. Paul says:

    Maybe they are using this as a social media platform to spur business. Somebody who wants a fly over now knows where to go and according to Chris’s post it’s only a hundred bucks.

  13. Charlie S says:

    Joe Bode says: “Just unbelievable how the ” forever quiet” people think the park is just for them.”

    I can never figure people like you out Joe! Here we have a sacred haven unlike any other place on earth, a rare place to get away from noise and madness and giddy crowds and the smell of human waste, and then you have the industrialist capitalist mindset who would take all of that away at any cost just to enhance their bank accounts and people like you go along with it. Why? What is it that keeps you from seeing a good thing when it’s put before you?

  14. Charlie S says:

    Linda M says: “If I hike 10 miles, either in wild forest or wilderness, and get buzzed by some frat boy in a plane, you can rest assured I will not return to the Adirondacks any time soon.”

    Some people will never get it Linda no matter how hard you try to get them to see the light.

  15. Wally Elton Wally says:

    If Wilderness isn’t about quiet, not sure what it is about. Ban them below some level, since they obviously have no judgment of their own.

  16. LEW says:

    HP wilderness is turning into an area with out law. People just do whatever they want with no fear of repercussion.

    • Boreas says:

      LEW,

      I think eventually there will be negative repercussions for Go Aviation – and possibly all aviation in the area. I am afraid their zeal in giving clients the ADK version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride will eventually lead to tragedy. We can only hope common sense intervenes first.

      But your overall sentiment is a concern as well. Whether breaking the law or just a lack of backcountry preparedness, the current lack of feet on the ground by DEC officers and Rangers only invites more bad behavior. Write the governor often and let him know how you feel.

  17. scott says:

    Given a choice I would prefer drones to helicopters, they are quiet and so small they are almost invisible. You see the same views.

    Same for floatplanes, I would prefer drones to the noise of floatplanes.

  18. Brendan Carberry says:

    Sometimes you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The pilot felt compelled to investigate a potential situation on the ground, and ended up being an annoyance to Mr. Moeser that day.

    A few things to address after reading this thread:

    1) Altitude is measured from the ground directly below the aircraft in flight, so an aircraft flying through a valley may pass below onlookers viewing it from the surrounding peaks.

    2) Reckless operation or ignorance of the rules are heavily frowned upon in the aviation community. Extensive time during pilot training is allocated to safe operation. For an aviation company to exist they must put safety before profits.

    3) A lot of people have valid concerns about the preservation of the High Peaks and surrounding wilderness areas. Go Aviation was founded by and is entirely composed of hard working folks who love this area. We’re not a faceless corporate giant here to ruin everyone’s good time.

    I’m named in the article and happy to answer questions you may have about aviation, our company, or any specific concerns. I will respond to replies on this thread or you may reach out to us here: https://adirondackhelitours.com/contact/

  19. Charlie S says:

    “The pilot felt compelled to investigate a potential situation on the ground..”
    > So says the pilot.

    “Go Aviation was founded by and is entirely composed of hard working folks who love this area. We’re not a faceless corporate giant here to ruin everyone’s good time.”
    > Many of us go to the woods to seek that golden silence Brendan. To walk miles in the woods and then to have your ears blasted by a whirlybird is outright wrong and shouldn’t be allowed! Period! Not in the Adirondacks anyway.

    • Brendan Carberry says:

      You’re right, and that’s one reason why the 2000 foot altitude guidelines are in place for wilderness areas, although it’s more out of concern for wildlife than people. We do our best, and haven’t received any complaints this summer besides the ones associated with this article. The point is to provide a wonderful view of the park, and maybe spot some wildlife at a distance.

      I do believe that the fleeting presence of a helicopter has a significantly lower impact on the character of wilderness area than the lasting impacts of continued human presence on the ground. What do you think?

      • Paul says:

        Brendan, I know that in navigational law there is a “requirement” for one vessel to go and assist another vessel that is in trouble (BTW that applies on the lakers here in the Adirondacks, if you see someone broken down or with some other problem you are actually compelled by law to help!). In FAA rules for helicopter pilots is there any requirement for you to try and assist someone you think may be in trouble?

        • Brendan Carberry says:

          Paul – I thought there was a law, as in maritime law, requiring a pilot to provide assistance. I think I was misreading NY’s good samaritan laws which protect an individual from legal consequences that could potentially arise from helping someone in need. These laws are designed to encourage a bystander to step in and help during an emergency. So although there are no legal requirements, I think common sense says that a pilot who has the ability to help an injured hiker should certainly do so if it doesn’t pose a risk to the safety of themselves or their passengers. In the case of the Duck Hole photo, the pilot had over 2000 hours of experience flying that exact helicopter. He wasn’t putting anyone at risk and I’m sure the public reaction would have been much different if he evacuated someone with a broken leg or picked up a lost hiker.

      • Charlie S says:

        With all due respect Brendan 2000 feet is not nearly high enough to muffle the racket that comes from a helicopter. Indeed a helicopter two miles away will disturb the hush of a pond or lake or any setting in the Adirondack woods when a hiker is immersed in them. It is absurd to think otherwise. An airplane two miles high has the same negative effect never mind 2000 feet above treeline. Have you not been in such an Adirondack setting? When all’s you can hear are the crunch of leaves underfoot as you walk? Or when you stop walking to listen in, to strain your ears to hear that deafening silence only to be broke by a minor bird in the near distance? If you even hear a bird at all. And then along comes Johnny in his helicopter or airplane. I’ve had this happen to me. In the woods (Cascade Pond) three miles and a obnoxious float-plane flies over and boom…all of that solitude out the window! (That darned Booth!)

        When you say, ” it’s more out of concern for wildlife than people.” think about what you say. People go there to be ‘one’ with nature in its rawest form, minus motorized contraptions which is rare to find anywhere nowadays and which I expect is going to be a thing of the past in the not too distant future.

        “I do believe that the fleeting presence of a helicopter has a significantly lower impact on the character of wilderness area than the lasting impacts of continued human presence on the ground. What do you think?”

        That fleeting presence takes away much more than you realize Brendan. And that wonderful view of the park is fine and dandy to you, your business, and people paying to get a view but it doesn’t make it right! I’m not being a hard ass here I just see a precedent being set that is not what our forefathers would have wanted and am quite frankly surprised that helicopters are even allowed to fly as tour guides in the Adirondacks.

        • Paul says:

          The “precedent” is really the current FAA regulations that allow the activity. Charlie what you are asking for is new legislation to ban something that appears to currently be legal. You don’t have a beef with the company you have a beef with the legal entity that allows the activity.

          An airplane at 10,500 feet (2 miles as you say) has the same impact? Are you saying that you have a problem with the Cape Air flights that fly several daily commercial routes that cross the high peaks on their way to Boston from the Lake Clear Airport – usually often at 8000 feet so 3000 feet above Marcy? What’s next on your list?

          By the way I take those flights often they are a super scenic flights, and with the subsidy are pretty cheap. And I see lots of folks that I am sure are ardent supporters of the Forest Preserve on the same flights they seem pretty happy too.

          At the end of this discussion here it looks like what you had is a one off incident that was blown out of proportion via social media.

        • Brendan Carberry says:

          Charlie, I see what you’re saying and it’s not a perspective that I’ve considered before – that even the noise of an airplane 2 miles up could be so disruptive. I grew up with a love of aviation and always enjoyed watching different types of civilian and military aircraft fly over/land on northern Lake George as a child. To me, floatplanes are a symbol of the backcountry just like a canoe or a pair of hiking boots. Aviation has a big part in the history of the Adirondacks and that shows in the infrastructure that currently exists: airports in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid that are almost completely surrounded by wilderness areas. However based on the responses to this article and Mr. Moeser’s photo, it is apparent that many folks don’t see aviation as having a place in the future of the park. Despite having grown up here (although outside of the Lake Placid region) this is my first exposure to this viewpoint.
          To a young person looking for economic opportunities here in the park, the scale of funding and infrastructure at local airports is both appealing and suggestive of a positive view of general aviation in local communities. The regional economy benefits heavily from the federal funding that those airports receive. I think if we don’t want aviation in the park we need to stop accepting the millions of dollars of federal funding that it brings in to the area.

          • Charlie S says:

            Those big airliners that fly way overhead have impressed me since childhood Brendan. I used to like to go to airports at first light and watch them come in and take off. Very impressive! To this day I often stop and pause to look up at airliners high up in the sky as they pass over…..they have an effect on me.

            Cessna’s and float planes! They make enough noise to wake seven sleepers. I cannot see the enjoyment in being in one of those especially with all of that noise surrounding you. Ear protectors are a must I’m assuming. To each his own but not for me. I’m not against airplanes or helicopters. Matter of fact I find them curious items as they fly over the neighborhoods in the burbs, but when I’m up in them Adirondack woods I like to think I am away from them as I go up there to find peace.

            Things are going to be what they are Brendan but truly I believe there’s a place for every thing and too often too many things just seem out of place…..to me. I cannot change the world but I sure as heck want to find peace with it before I check out and I’ll be darned if too often there are no obstacles in finding that peace.

            One time when in the woods I had this vision of being bathed in light and saw myself as a phosphorescent hominoid and I kid you not when I say there had been times when I felt extraterrestrial when in them Adirondack woods. There was a time that I thought I was about to be in communication with something supernatural when in them woods, as if I was spellbound by ethereal forces, and wouldn’t you know a float plane flew over and snapped me right out of my spell. I would like to think I might have that experience again but this time….without a powered flying vehicle intruding upon my quiet space!

          • Boreas says:

            Brendan,

            Part of the issue here is that you speak a lot of “the Park”. I believe much of the issue here is what specific PART of the Park is involved with the flights. The ADK Park is a huge place, but when Wilderness areas were designated, most people assumed it would be as primitive as possible – no motors. The problem is there are different legislating bodies for air and land. No motors on land, but they are OK 10 feet off the ground? You have to admit that is silly legislation.

            People using Wilderness areas on the ground expect the air to be just as wild. When aircraft – manned or otherwise – intrude on that wildness it raises people’s ire. One must be careful not to screw the pooch. The more obvious your aircraft are in Wilderness areas such as the High Peaks, the more likely it is going to prompt legislation to ban such practices. This hasn’t been done so far because operators in the past have been very careful about dropping too low for too long in popular Wilderness areas. But the more people that witness close encounters, the more likely there will be legislation passed prohibiting the practice. Just human nature.

    • Paul says:

      With the number of lost hikers we seem to be having these days (or maybe its just the coverage?) it seems like prudent thing for the pilot to do if he or she thought that there may have been someone in a predicament. Have there been lots of complaints or is this a pretty isolated incident?

      Obviously if any of these pilots spotted the man that is currently lost in the HPW it would be a great outcome.

      • Boreas says:

        How many people report backcountry hiker violations? How many people report traffic offenses? Many people don’t want to waste their time or get involved. They assume “the authorities” will take care of the problem. Just because there are few complaints doesn’t mean a problem is rare or benign.

  20. Taras says:

    To Brendan Carberry:

    I concede your reason for the descent is entirely plausible and, in fact, commendable. However, I admit I’m surprised the pilot would need to descend so low (as depicted in the photo) to confirm there was no human figure attached to the signal mirror. Ultimately, what was the source of the reflection?

    BTW, the separate incident I described was viewed when we were ~700 feet above the elevation of Four Corners (i.e. the saddle between Skylight and Marcy). The helicopter flew *below* our eye-level so it was less than 700 feet from the deck. When it rose over Marcy it appeared much larger overhead than when we first saw it fly over the saddle. It means he came even closer to the surface (of Marcy). It’s *this* kind of behavior that leaves people, like myself, with a negative impression of helicopter tours.

    If you know who was operating the green R44 with yellow lettering, discreetly give them a piece of your mind because they’re poisoning the well. I don’t wish any helicopter tour operator ill will but y’all need to operate in way that makes you as unobtrusive as fixed-wing tour operators.

    Good luck to you!

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