Reflection: Helicopter Crash Pearl Harbor 18 February 2016

One year ago today a Bell Ranger Helicopter made a ‘auto rotation’ controlled crash into the water of Pearl Harbor. I was approximately 100 yards from the incident. On board were a family from Canada & the pilot. The aircraft sank to the bottom in about 18’ feet of water. All onboard were able to exit the aircraft except 16-year-old Riley Dobson. The helicopter had flipped over once it sank & was resting on the bottom, blades down, skids up. Riley was stuck in the port side aft seat, with a twisted seat belt keeping him from a clean egress. I ran to the waters edge & met my friend who is a Federal Police Officer at the park. He was removing his gun belt & shirt. He told me that there was a person still in the chopper. We dove in, me headfirst like a dumb ass. I went straight to the fuselage from the dive. I swam through the front of the cabin thinking that Riley might be trapped there as sometimes the front seats of helicopters have ‘4-point’ seat belts that are harder to exit from. He was not there. We continued to dive taking turns trying to get Riley out of the aircraft. Finally we were handed a knife & took turns cutting the belt.

Riley was extracted after about 7 minutes. EMS assets had arrived & he was revived, at least for now. The following was written just for Riley about 2 weeks after the crash. I now feel the need to share as Riley Dobson would pass away 4 days later.

February 26th, 2016

“The following is kind of long & rambling; I don’t expect everyone to read it but I am struggling of late & it has been challenging to put Riley’s death behind me. I needed to share this, with someone, so why not my friends & Ohana which most of my FB friends are.

It’s been a year since we lost Riley Dobson in the crash of a Bell Ranger at Pearl Harbor. Its been tough for me, but I cant imagine what Riley’s family is experiencing. My friend Makani Christensen encouraged me to write about the crash & subsequent extraction of young Riley. Makani is a former Marine Officer, Annapolis Graduate & combat veteran of Iraq & Afghanistan and a mentor to me. He has seen combat, death & battle injuries so he knows what PTSD is first hand. His suggestion to put pen to paper has been a God Send. My mental issues pale in comparison to the men and women serving our country in the Armed Services, EMS, Fire & Police departments. In no way is my experience as heavy as what they go through, but I still needed to share my words to Riley with Ohana. I settled on writing a letter to Riley vs just telling the story of the crash & extraction.

Mahalo to everyone for your support & kind messages especially Vanessa Finland & Marcus & Mel Luttrell. I am no hero. I am positive all of you would have dove in to help Riley. Maybe it’s a surfing thing, a Hawaii thing, a Jax Beach thing but it’s just the way we all roll in our beach & island communities…

“We in Hawaii do not run from a fight, we run to it” I actually said that to George Stephanopoulos from ABC News when he asked why we ran to the crash. George is one reason I watch FOX News and not the liberal media but that is another story. He just does not understand surfers I am guessing.

“I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.” Marcus Luttrell said this in his book ‘Lone Survivor’. We watermen & women all have a tiny bit of SEAL strength in us. Never Quit…..

Love & God Speed-cg

Dear Riley,

We would have surfed together, gone spearfishing with Uncle Kevin Sakuda, skateboarded with Chase, Makena & Gary Owens, eaten Poke at Tamuras, gone fishing with Uncle Makani Christensen, gone freediving with Kurt Chambers, hiked Laie Falls with Kahana Pukahi, gone pig hunting with Uncle Stephen Dewald, paddled outrigger canoe with Denise Oceanplayground, worked the loʻi with Lisa Dewald, & Douglas A. Ka’ehuiki & Darren, go Big Island & mountain bike with Aunty Wendy Minor, ride horses in the Kahuku hills with Uncle Jim Russi, walk Chuck with Baja Brock, play herding with Carol Jaxon & Ed’s puppies Rudy & Wesson, celebrate an Awa Ceremony with Kiliona, work on a Koa canoe with Uncle Bobby, go Kauai & hike with Aunty Lisa Kaili Ledesma go for a surf lesson with Uncle Bruce Irons at Pinetrees, check out giant surf with Jamie Sterling or just hung with my boys on the North Shore. This is my Hawaii & it rips my heart open to think you won’t be able to join me. You would have fit in. You would have been one of the crew. You would have been accepted as Ohana into our crew.

I looked into your eyes as I struggled to get you out of that chopper and wanted to hear your story, to know you, to be your friend. We heard how hard you fought in the hospital; a true Hanai son of Hawaii. You were a warrior to the end. Canada must be proud…

Come to find out your were an awesome kid, a horseman, a show jumper, animal lover & friend to all who were lucky enough to know you.

We tried so hard to free you from that fuselage as fast as possible. Get you out so you could go surfing with me. I will never forgive myself for not holding my breath longer. I am so sorry it was not quicker.
A US sailor, a Federal Police officer and me, an old North Shore surfer fought hard to bring you to the surface but it was not fast enough. I wanted to be able to show you my Hawaii once we all stopped smelling like jet fuel. I am so sad this wont happen…
Hawaii weeps for your families’ loss but they need to know we are here if needed to “talk story” or just cry together. Everyone must know that you kept giving even after death. Many sick folks from Hawaii are now blessed with the “KoKo” from your organs.
So Pono…
I must confess I am selfish as I feel like I lost a potential little brother in you, a surf partner, dive buddy, paddler and a friend.

When I heard you left us on Monday I drove to the crash site at Pearl Harbor and floated flowers & placed a Lei on the shore where I had dove in to free you. I also scattered the ashes of my beloved puppy, Kolohe, so you two could hang out. He was a great dog; you will be best friends. Kolohe loved horses as you do. Take care of each other & someday we will surf, play on the beach & you can teach me to ride one of your show horses…
Rest in Peace my friend…

Love Chris

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