On Saturday morning, Aug. 28, Nashville-based helicopter pilot Joel Boyers had just finished assisting his fiancée in obtaining her pilot’s license, and they were on their way home to celebrate when he received a phone call from a distressed woman in Pennsylvania.
Her brother’s house in Waverly, Tennessee, was flooded, and he and his kids were stranded on a roof. Could Boyers be of assistance?
In a Thursday interview, he added, “I thought, ‘How would I feel if I told her I’m not even going to try?'” adding “She just so happened to call the right person, because I’m the only person crazy enough to even try to do that,” as reported by NBCNews.
On the trip to Waverly, a tiny town approximately 60 miles west of Nashville, Boyers had to battle with bad weather and high-voltage power lines.
He set down in a field to regain his bearings just before arriving in town and discovered the internet was down, making it difficult to locate the property he was looking for. Regardless, he took off to find them.
“As soon as I popped over the ridge, it was nothing but tan raging water below me,” he added. “There were two houses that were on fire. There were cars in trees. There was tons of debris. Any way debris could get caught, it was. I knew no one was going to be able to swim in that.”
Boyers was alone in the skies, despite the fact that a few others were out in boats rescuing the trapped and one guy was assisting on a jet ski. He began swooping down the flooded creek, snatching everybody he could.
Boyers, who also co-owns Helistar Aviation, claims he rescued 17 people that day. He’s proud of it, but he claims he should be the one thanking them. “I literally prayed just days before this that God would give me some meaning in my life, and then I end up getting this call,” he added.
He has previously flown above calamities such as floods, but “the cops are usually there, and my hands are tied. This time there weren’t any.”
With rains that more than quadrupled projections and smashed the state record for one-day rainfall, Saturday’s flooding killed 20 people and destroyed houses, highways, cellphone towers, and telephone lines.
According to the Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency, more than 270 houses were destroyed and 160 were severely damaged.
Boyers had to navigate past power wires, balance his skids on steep rooftops, and hover above rivers while performing the rescues. It needed all of the talents honed throughout 16 years of flying, which included work for a television news station, documentaries, and country music artists.
He stated, “I don’t want to lie.” adding, “It was almost a little fun for me.”
Melody Among, his fiancée, acted as his co-pilot, identifying electrical lines, giving him sips of water, and even seizing the controls at times. “Her and I will be bonded to those people for life,” he added.
He saw four individuals on the ledge of a farm supply store’s roof, where he was able to lay down one skid and pick them up in three separate journeys. One lady said she had witnessed her husband being swept away and was separated from her daughter, who was on the roof of a neighboring gas station. Boyers landed and saved the daughter as well.
Jeani Rice-Cranford, who lived on a neighboring hilltop and helped hide the victims later, captured the rescues of four of those people on film. Rice-Cranford stated, “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Rice-Cranford said. “Not in real life.”
When Boyers arrived, Rice-Cranford and others had been waiting for more than two hours along the highway, helplessly watching and listening to the screaming. “There was a burst of wind during the rescue, and the helicopter kind of shifted,” Rice-Cranford recalled. “We all just held our breath. We were just watching with our mouths open, hoping and praying that he would be able to get them.”
In Among’s mind, the rescue stands out. “First, we got the mother,” she said, “then we got the daughter, and they reunited on the ground.” She added, “They were both hugging each other,” says the one. They were both hugging each other. It was very emotional.”
They spotted a house on a hill surrounded by floodwaters but not yet engulfed at another time. When Boyers landed and picked up two guys, he noticed a girl at the window who refused to go.
He flew out, dropped one of the guys off with Among, and then returned to load the girl into the chopper with the other man. He was able to save the girl and a woman who was with her when he landed again.
“I’m in a little hole with power lines all around. It takes enormous energy to take off vertically like that,” he explained. As a result, he temporarily abandoned the man before returning to get him. “I just kept doing that over and over again until I was low on fuel.”
He was always aware that he was not meant to be doing any of this.
He remarked, “Every landing was pretty dangerous.” He’s already had a discussion about it with the Federal Aviation Administration.
“I know the FAA can take my license away if they see me flying like that,” he added. He informed them that he had not charged anybody for the rescue, that no one had been injured, that the helicopter had not been damaged, and that no law enforcement helicopters were in the vicinity.
He landed at an airfield in the adjacent town of Dickson to refuel after leaving Waverly and learned that the state police and National Guard had yet to arrive due to the poor weather.
Boyers claimed he received a call from the lady who had contacted him in a frantic hunt for a helicopter near Waverly. She said that her family was okay, but he has no idea whether he or someone else saved them.
Boyers claims that rescuing individuals from flooding isn’t the scariest thing he’s ever done. That would have to be an instrument-only flight through the clouds, with some of the equipment malfunctioning.
“Literally, it just felt like I was working,” he explained. “Obviously I tabled the feeling wrenching in everyone’s stomach because of the devastation.”