Editor's note: This story appeared in the June 28 edition of The Fairfield Sun Times, but has been uploaded to our new website.
I had no idea on Saturday morning as I drove my sturdy 4 x 4 pickup to C Bar N Bible Camp through pounding rain and mud that five days later I would not be driving out but would be evacuated by the Army National Guard’s helicopter instead.
The relentless rain kept up until Tuesday evening, but before then it managed to flood two cabins, including mine, with two inches of water. It also made the Dearborn River rise to extremely high levels, damaging the bridge and the road. I have been to C-N many times, but this was my first time going to junior high camp as a leader-in-training.
I had been looking forward to a long week of games, getting to know other kids and learning from the Bible. Normally much of camp is spent outside playing games and floating the river, but because of the rainy weather we spent most of our time in either the gym playing games like dodge ball or in the chapel.
During the chapel service on Wednesday evening, one of the camp leaders announced that we would be evacuated the next day in helicopters. The cheers that followed proved that this was going to be an exciting experience. That evening the junior high boys in my cabin kept asking me if this was just a big joke. I replied with a smile and told them for the hundredth time, “No, it’s not a joke.”
I didn’t get much sleep that night because of the excitement in the air and the pillow fights that kept breaking out. The next morning we got up with the sun shining down on us and we began to stuff all our gear into our bags. We had been instructed the night before to leave our bags outside the chapel in the morning and to stay off the upper field where the choppers planned to land. We were then split into four different groups and took our seats inside the chapel to await the arrival of the two large Chinook helicopters.
The thundering sound of the first helicopter filled the Dearborn Canyon and shook the windows of the chapel, making my heart pound with excitement. The massive machine gently set down on the field and cooled down for a few minutes. Then the pilot cut the engines and the crew dismounted. After spending a few minutes outside talking with the C-N staff, the crew and two sheriffs entered the chapel where a tense and excited feeling filled the air. They then explained to us safety measures and what we could expect. They said it would be cold and we should wear sweatshirts. We were told to take off our hats so they would not blow away while boarding.
After that short briefing by the crew, each group practiced loading and unloading the silent Chinook. We were given ear plugs and became familiar with the seatbelts. Then all the campers carried their luggage into the chapel to wait their turn to fly. The first group of 32 people boarded the plane with their luggage and took off for Great Falls. I was in the second group and had been assigned to lead one line of 16 kids onto the left side of the aircraft. About ten minutes after the first group left, the second chopper landed but left its engines on. We grabbed our stuff and lined up outside in two lines. I had left some of my stuff like my sleeping bag and extra shoes in the cab of my truck so I could easily carry on what I needed.
By now the rain had decided to throw one last blow and it began to pour on us. We quickly boarded the shaking copter and set our stuff in the middle and took our seats on the sides. After fastening my seatbelt, I helped others around me tighten their own. The two crew members in the back of the plane helped us board then strapped our stuff to the floor. Before I knew it, the large bird was lifting off the ground and changing directions for Great Falls. Luckily, I got a window seat and watched as the Bible camp and my truck were left behind.
There was not much to see at first because of the rain and clouds, but we quickly left the mountains and I was able to get my bearings. I spotted the wind turbines north of Fairfield in the distance, and then Crown Butte came into view about a mile to the left. The pilot told us that we would fly at about 1000 feet.
Did I mention that this aircraft was loud? We had to wear earplugs and communicate with hand signals. The 30-minute flight went by quickly and I enjoyed every minute of it. We bounced down at the Great Falls Airport and gave the crew high fives. I did not realize how big of an event the evacuation was until the back of the chopper opened and I saw a crowd of people waiting for us. I threw my backpack over my shoulder and helped a younger boy with his oversized duffle bag. We slowly exited the Chinook to meet our waiting families. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I loved every second of it. Thanks to the C-N staff and the Army National Guard for safely getting us out of the mountains. Camp definitely ended on a high note!