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19 Rusty Wrecks Airlifted
From Topanga Creek
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By Gary Meyer
TOPANGA, CA; September 9, 2000:
Hearty volunteers had already put in hundreds of hours
of work preparing for this day, down in the deepest areas of Topanga
Creek where rusting automobiles still containing toxic fluids have been
polluting the waters, some for more than forty years.
Two lift locations were readied for rigging the cars. A crew was assigned to descend to each one, where the final work of strapping each automobile, as well as large piles of junk needed to be carried out before the helicopter's arrival, scheduled for 9:30. Nineteen cars and many piles of scrap would be flown out of Topanga Creek this morning. During the prep and strapping work, the message came that fog had delayed takeoff from the air field in Corona.
After the rigging work was done, word came again via cell phone that the fog had lifted and the chopper was on its way. Repeated efforts to reach Lower Creek Crew by radio failed, so Upper Creek Crew did not know whether to hike down and help them as planned, if they needed it. The decision was made to wait. Upper Creek Crew passed the time, swapping stories. Delmar Lathers gave everyone a class in creek bed botanicals and folk medicine. After it was pointed out that the three most poisonous plants in southern California were all sitting together at his feet, Kelly Liken, the ground crew supervisor, reached for his walkee-talkee to try Lower Creek Crew again. No luck.
During the down time, Scott King, local sound engineer and musician, decided that he wanted to try his hand at hooking up one of the cars to the chopper himself. Delmar was also a must try guy. King thought hooking cars to a helicoper was such a cool idea that he's decided to name his new band accordingly, "The Top Creek Hookers." Look for them playing the next bash at town center.
Lower Creek Crew finally radioed after sending one member up a tree to gain transmission clearance. After complying with Upper Creek's request that he whistle like a bird, the Lower Creek caller was permitted to ask "What's going on? When will the chopper be here?" "He's on his way," squawked Ken Widen, "we'll call you."
Finally Kelly's phone rang and pilot Steve announced his approach from
the coast even as the pounding chop sound of the Sikorsky S-58 came
within earshot. The pilot would get a visual on both crews
before heading up the canyon to the Community
House where a ceremony was to be held to honor the students, the
teacher and the pilot. County Supervisor, Zev Yaroslovsky,
presented certificates of appreciation.
As the S-58 came whopping overhead, the down draft blew
sand and debris everywhere. Hard hats not strapped to the
chin, flew off. Crew members not wearing safety goggles could
not see. Scott King grabbed the straps and reached for the
hook, which was lowered to within a few feet by pilot Steve. Within
15 seconds, King had the first load hooked and all crew members shuffled
backwards as the beast hoisted its prize into the sky. This
was going to go very quickly.
Kelly's job with Heli-Flite takes him from remote areas
where he recovers aircraft wreckages, to building tops for installation
of air-conditioning units. Kelly will soon be getting his
helicopter pilot's license, as the owner of Heli-Flite has been nudging
him to do it. After the recent crash of a Sheriff's
helicopter atop the Twin Towers County Jail facility in downtown Los
Angeles, Kelly and the Heli-Flite crew fetched the mangled chopper from
the buidling top. They are called upon to lift just about
anything you can think of. While their fees are usually somewhat
steep, they came in at angel rates to de-junk our creek.
The Drop Zone
The drop zone is buzzing with voluteers. The
same unrelenting pace continues as wreck after wreck appears from the
canyon's floor, each landing gently in the drop zone, to be unhooked
and loaded on trucks supplied and driven by Dick Sherman's Topanga Underground,
Sid Ferris with Brett Randall, and Gary Jensen's Water Trucks (Tom Hogston
helps out driving water trucks). Jimmy Wiley and the Wiley
Brothers crew manage the loading of everything onto the waiting trucks.
Cars and assorted junk are hauled off to the parking lot at the Resource Conservation District office, where RCD president, Nancy Helsley, was beaming with delight at the tons of junk and debris sitting in her yard.
California Highway Patrol (CHP), Auto Theft Division was there to check all the wrecks for VINs (Vehicle Indentification Numbers). VINs will be checked against stolen car records, as well as ownership records so that anyone who may have decided to dump their car in the creek can be contacted about it. By 1:30pm they had recorded VINs from 8 of the 19 cars recovered.
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