Hellicopter rope rescue

Leading from the front line

by Ivan Kristoff

In my 30 years of experience in the world of rescue as a volunteer rope access Search and Rescue technician, I have had the opportunity to see many interesting and unique characters. Most interesting for me was to find out how people behave differently when they are put in situations under extreme psychological pressure. I found that the true character of a person and a leader of an organization can be demonstrated in critical situations. How a leader of a team handles crisis shows his true character and what he is made of.

In the Search and Rescue field there are two types of leaders: the true leaders and the “wannabes”. It is easy to spot the true leader. He is always leading from the front line, is the first one to take casualties, and is in the center of the action. A true leader is devoted to his mission, organization or team. He is the one who takes most of the risks, makes decisions and is blamed if things go wrong. He is selfless, mission-oriented and takes full responsibility for the team’s actions, achievements and failures.

First time for the Mi-17 helicopterFor example, when I organized an aerial tactical training session and public demonstration with the Bulgarian Army Air Force helicopter crew, I was the first to rappel down on a rope from the helicopter, accomplish the mission, and the last one to ascend back to the helicopter while flying. During the execution of a new rapid- access procedure, the helicopter suddenly started to shake uncontrollably due to the extreme pressure caused by the strong winds. I started to rotate non-stop and accelerate like being in a laundry machine. My hands were pumped up from climbing up the rope, I was developing vertigo and most of all, I was afraid that I would black out before I could reach the helicopter. The more I climbed and approached the powerful rotating blades, the more acceleration I had to endure. The most rational thing was to abandon the mission, rappel to the ground and run away to safety. That would have been disastrous for the reputation of the team. Instead, I mobilized my will power and did not quit until I went back into the helicopter. I was the most expendable member of the crew and the first one to try my theories on my own back.

The other types of leader are the “wannabe”. When things go right, they are the ones who take most of the credit. On the other hand, when things go wrong, they blame everybody else but themselves. They are self – centered, selfish, and concerned primarily with their own image rather than the mission of the team or organization they are pretending to lead. The “wanna-be” leader is envious or jealous of the success of his team mates. He strives to maintain his leadership, by suppressing the accomplishments of his followers or by taking their credit. On the line of fire, he is ready to sacrifice his men or jeopardize the mission for his own interest.

KIDS WORLD MagazineFor example, I invited one authorized dealers of rope access equipment to participate in a technical aerial rescue training session, with the Bulgarian Police Tactical helicopter crew and members of the Faculty of Fire Service and Emergency. This dealer, who I believed that would be able to help the crew with providing equipment in the future, seemed very promising assistant who can help with his experience. I gave him the opportunity to be in the helicopter, have an experience of a lifetime, which he could not afford, and increase his / and public exposure.

I divided the team in two groups: the crew with me and the helicopter and the other one was going to be hanging on the exterior wall of a high rise building. We were going to hover above them; I was going to rappel from the helicopter and extract one of the participants from the exterior wall and fly him over to the ground. While I was too busy with the details of preparation for the operation and executing some tactical procedures, the dealer for Petzl in Bulgaria – P.T., whom I left with the other group just to observe, was busy with commenting behind my back with the rest of the participants how things are going to go wrong and how incompetent I was, just before the moment they had to trust their lives in my hands. It’s the worst time to psych up somebody before engaging in a dangerous situation where the smallest mistake can cost him his life and jeopardize the safety of the crew and other people.

KIDS WORLD MagazineWhen I approached by air the area of destination, I noticed that the dealer was not observing the safety of his group for any hazardous material on top of the building, such as flying debris from the downdraft wind, but instead, he has left the area and was hiding behind the window of the safest place, away from the group. Also, I noticed that my friend Jordan whom I had to “rescue”, had the symptoms of post-traumatic stress; his face looked pail and he was not responding to my request to give me his safety line to secure him to my harness. I managed the whole situation and brought him to safety in a perfect rapid-access procedure. Later, I asked him what was the “scientific” explanation for his strange behavior and he told me the whole story. I was more amused to find out later, that the dealer has boasted to a group of climbers, that he has organized the helicopter and the whole operation, and that we would not succeed if it were not for him.

I learned a lot from the late experience and how some people behave differently when given the opportunity to “play” leaders. I found out how uncontrollable envy, jealousy, selfishness and the true character of a leader can be discovered in critical situations.

For a while, some people can fool themselves and others as being the leader, but at the end of the mission or goal, it shows who the leader is, by the way he manages people and leads them trough tough times. Sometimes, the consequences of bad leaders can be fatal. I have a “two words”, simple concept for leadership: Follow me.

Helicopter: MI-17. Rappelling from the central hatch opening


At this photo with the heli rappelling, we had no radio or visual communication, because there was smoke from the top of the building and the pilots had a helluva time to deal with the situation that was on the verge to go a fatal case, because they could not see me and on top of that the vortex effect and smoke was all the helicopter… Besides, there was a saboteur, the local/national dealer and representative of PE…, who has created a great chaos out of pure jealousy and fear of competition. That person is not in the photo, but even though his criminal behaviour in a very extreme airborne heli rope access rescue training, where there was a strong downwind draft from the blades and flying debris around, I had to do the perfect execution of combat rope access operation. And that trained me well to deal with worst case scenarios as a single person working on the highest a building in 2003 without anyone else there. So in the event that something may have happened, I COULD NOT RELY on the public to contact the fire department to do the rescue at 500 meters off the ground.

Definition of what is combat rope access?

Let clarify briefly the situation that I was put in the above situation, because of my mistake to give a credit to a person, who was invited by me to become a sponsor on the technical and academical rescue team of the Faculty of Fire Safety and Civil Protection, the Academy of the Ministry of Interior in Bulgaria, and for that arrangement, I invited him and allowed him to be on board of the helicopter. But once you read the story, not only that he did not commit to the arrangements, which is not even my concern, but during the two heli rappelling and air rescue training sessions, he literally grabbed my hand, just before I had to take off from the central hatch of the MI 17 helicopter, and created a total mess that almost hang out the person down because the rope were tangled off his head. This was like a Quin teen Tarantino’s scenario for a Hollywood story. But that was not even the worst thing he did that there.
So, here we had almost a small combat hand-to-hand close combat, because he did what was not supposed to do anyone, especially that he is neither an expert, there was no need a nobody asked for his opinion, but he grabbed my hand and told me that I am supposed to wear a glove:) That stopping, at the wrong time, at the most precise moment that requires concentration and rapid movement, especially because there was no oxygen in my mask and I could not even hear what the hell this person wanted, why is he stopping me, what does e want to say. So, I will continue this story another time but I guess that is supposed be the real case of combat rope access…
Still, in some places, like in Bulgaria, they use single rope, and I had (there was another case too, in Sofia) where an old lady started to cut my rope, because it was messing with here flowers on the balcony:)

It is the attitude, not the altitude.

It is the attitude, not the altitude. There were so many aspects during the very first rope access work above 500 meters that is why even the previous company that has worked before at a much lower level, a few hundred meter below, had to be prohibited ever to get on the job and nearby there…

МИ 17 вертолет

ETFThe experience in Clandestine Close-quarters verbal combat behind your back during rope access in the vertical and aerial environment can be lethal. This discussion is not for this topic, especially that a real near death scenario was witnessed by me on board of a helicopter and one that was shared with me after the hot debriefing, as well my friend from the toronto Metropolitan Police, Emergency Task Force (ETF) shared with me brought to my attention to look into a new discipline in the rope access industry.

aerial rescue commandoThere is another level for what can be called combat rope access, and strangely I might be the first one who used this termin and see it as a new concern for an industry that must be and should be very friendly and supportive to each other collegue. The next level to that is Hostage rope access rescue.

Well, since you don’t have a Security Clearance to know what we have been training, but here are some photos with a great story behind them.

In rescue situation where there is the possibility of terrorist attacks or hostage  crisis and hostile environment, we had to be prepared and trained with military and police personnel, as well as collaborate with the different emergency services and play different worst case  scenarios, where the army and emergency services, weren’t prepared to react on specific situation. That is where you can arm volunteers from the Specialized SOS unit, aka Specialized Rescue Association, private organizations, or initiate different protocol for “Combat Rope Access” in order to keep the public and even our family safe.
As my friend Ivan Korchev said, “In Bulgaria such of elaboration is possible, where in “developed ” countries insurance companies won’t allow you to operate or do anything like it.”

A very interesting discussion was initiated yesterday on the concept of Combat Rope Access. This wil be the new trend for the New Generation of rope access techs – the Rescuer of the Future. This 3 minutes footage will be showcased for the “Ghost Hunting” Report on a missing person in the Himalayas and what kind of a Combat SAR and Rope Access Tech must be prepared for Combat Rope Access.

Subscribe to the channel, where soon the story for hostage rope access will be told.


Дефиниция за термина “Спайдъркоптер” – от Спайдърмен и хеликоптер идва наименованието на хеликоптер, в който Спайдърмен се спуска по въже, за да спасява. Спайдъркоптера е снабден със сертифицирана от производителя система за окачване на външен товар, която се използва за спасяване на хора и евакуирането им по въздух.