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HAZARDOUS CARGO IN A “Huey”

18 October 2019

HAZARDOUS CARGO IN A “Huey”

While stationed in the Panama Canal Zone in the 1970 time frame as an Air Force JAG, I did a lot of flying with the U.S. Air Force helicopter unit. The Air Force had the responsibility for Medevacs throughout Panama and as far south as the border with Colombia. The Hueys didn’t have the range to fly to some of the Indian villages and back so the Air Force H-3s took fuel drums and positioned them at some of these remote villages so the Hueys had a fuel supply available for the return trips. They would periodically check these drums to insure they were still full.

On these trips into the jungle, aircrews would barter with the native peoples to get parrots, macaws and Japanese fishing floats. On one of the trips I made, we were getting ready to leave to return to the Canal Zone when one of the aircrew appeared with a big wicker basket that was bouncing around and had a terrible odor. When asked what it contained he told us he had acquired a young jaguar and was going to tame it. When he started to put it in the passenger compartment he was told “no way” in no uncertain terms.

There was a small hatch in the tail boom of the helo so he opened the hatch and squeezed the basket into the tail boom. When we landed at Albrook AFB two hours later, the aircrewman opened the hatch to discover there was one very agitated jaguar loose in the tail boom. He told the pilot he would get a shotgun and shoot the cat, this drew a very negative response: “Hell no, you’re not firing a shotgun in the tail boom of my aircraft!”

It was then decided to get a can of ether from the dispensary, throw it in the tail boom and when the cat was rendered unconscious to remove it. We got the ether, pulled the cork, threw it through the hatch and waited ten minutes. When we opened the hatch, the jaguar was even more agitated. The tail boom had so many holes in it that the ether dissipated quickly and had no effect on the jaguar.

We adjourned to the NCO Club bar, which was up the hill from the air field, to consider our options over a cold beer. There was a slightly drunk fire fighter at the bar who overheard our conversations and volunteered to “…get that damn cat out of the helo.” He proceeded to the fire station and donned a padded silver fire fighting suit with hood and gloves and met us at the helo. In the interim, we acquired a wire cage to put the jaguar in.  

We opened the hatch and the fire fighter grabbed the cat, after a significant struggle, turned around and dropped the jaguar in the cage. Mission accomplished! However, the fire fighting suit looked like it had been through a shredder. As I was the officer that signed off on lost, damaged or destroyed Air Force property, the pilot turned to me and said: ”Ed. That fire fighting suit was destroyed in training. Right?” To which I replied: “Definitely, you never know when you are going to have to get a jaguar out of the tail boom of a helicopter.”

Charles E. (Ed) Ellis

Captain, JAGC, USN (Ret)

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Ed Ellis (L) chats with a qualified warbird pilot on the floor of the National Naval Aviation Museum (TBM Avenger on the deck, Interstate TDR-1 drone above and SB2A Buccaneer high to the left)—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

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Ed Ellis is currently serving with the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation (Director of Planned Giving/Membership) and it is more than kind of him to share this unique (hopefully) experience. Ed also has helped in many other ways. For example, touring me through their wondrous National Flight Academy which was reviewed here.

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