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Watch LAFD Pilots Rescue 3 People And 2 Dogs As The Woolsey Fire Closes In

A LAFD helicopter made a daring mountaintop rescue during the Woolsey Fire on Nov. 9, 2018. (LAFD Photo by David Nordquist)
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By Ryan Fonseca and Emily Dugdale

There was no shortage of heroics happening during the Woolsey Fire. One of them was a dramatic air rescue of three people and two dogs who were trapped on a mountain as flames and smoke closed in.

On Nov. 9, Los Angeles Fire Department Air Operations pilots David Nordquist and Joel Smith were in the middle of water-dropping operations when they were called on to save civilians and their pets from Castro Peak in the hills above Malibu.

The helicopter's fuel supply was dwindling and there was no chance of a hoist operation, according to LAFD spokeswoman Margaret Stewart. So, the pilots made an "incredibly complex" landing in thick smoke on a narrow strip of burning ridgeline.

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Nordquist's helmet-worn camera captured the rescue, as Smith jumped out and ran toward the fast-moving flames to help the people and dogs get into the helicopter safely.

"I kind of snapped my fingers, pointed at Dave, and said, 'God Speed, I'm out of here.' And I went running up the hill," Smith said.

You can watch the rescue below (main action starts at 3:20).

The landing looks and sounds pretty scary to the average person, but both pilots said their years of training helped them keep their cool in the moment.

"We're not nervous, we're not scared to put the helicopter in a tight spot. Every time we go out training, we go land on a ridgeline," Smith said.

"What you saw on display in that video is nothing more than our training put into action," Nordquist said. "So there wasn't a whole lot of thinking about it."

Nordquist said in a dangerous situation like this, it's not every man for himself -- it's a team effort.

Joel Smith, left, and David Nordquist, right. (Photo by Emily Dugdale/LAist)

"Their professionalism, technical expertise and complete dedication to their mission was directly responsible for saving the lives of three people and two dogs," Stewart said.

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The Woolsey Fire has burned nearly 97,000 acres and is linked to the deaths of three people. The blaze destroyed about 1,500 structures and was roughly 96 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, according to Cal Fire.

This story was updated on Wednesday, Nov. 21, to include quotes from Joel Smith and David Nordquist.

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