Forget the Firefighters
by Tim Findley
|State Wildlife helicopter pilot Jon Remlinger and his three passengers were at about 5,000 feet, out of Winnemucca, when they received a radio call from a twin-engine BLM Otter.|
| The Otter
was flying a posting mission over two wildfires raging
within 20 miles of the helicopter and casting a line of
brown smoke along the near horizon over the Humboldt
Three firefighters, one of them a woman, had been caught by a shift in the blaze and were now lying in the field, urgently in need of rescue. The BLM pilot in the Otter asked Remlinger if he could divert his Bell Jet Ranger into the area to pick up the firefighters down from the second degree burns and smoke inhalation.
Remlinger confirmed his Loran directional equipment and began edging the stick in the direction of the distress call. Next to him, in the left seat, he noticed his boss and passenger, Nevada Division of Wildlife Administrator Will Molini, turning as if to seek advice from another passenger in the back seat.
"No," Molini's voice crackled over the intercom, "Go on to King's River."
Molini's order to ignore the call for help began a process of cover-up that extends today, some five years later, into the working of Nevada's Democrat machine politics and its chief manipulator, U.S. Senator Harry Reid.
The passenger in the back seat was a Republican, State Senate Majority Leader William Raggio of Reno, who later events seemed designed to protect and perhaps influence.
At the time of that flight in August of 1991, helicopter pilot Remlinger was a 20-year veteran of the Las Vegas police department, launching what seemed a promising new career in flying the state chopper meant to keep track of wildlife.
Molini would later argue that a Careflight Medical helicopter was already en route and only 30 minutes away from the injured firefighters when the Otter asked for their assistance. The Careflight helicopter, the Wildlife boss argued, was better equipped to deal with the situation.
But Remlinger's own instincts and training as a police officer told him that the quickest response possible could make a life or death difference to the injured firefighers. He heard that in the Otter pilot's voice, and he would learn later that the crew on the twin-engine plane desperately considered attempting to land on a dirt road themselves to reach their people.
Even after he set the Jet Ranger down at King's Ranch, Remlinger was still in closer range than the in the printed edition September 26 helicopter pounding the sky out of Reno. The urgent call for help from the BLM Otter and his own reluctant answer, "Unable to respond," pulled at Remlinger. He told Molini he could reach the firefighters in 10 minutes and have them to the hospital in Winnemucca within another half hour.
"No, turn it off," Molini told him.
Remlinger was troubled by what he had been made to do. He knew his mission that day was little more than a joy ride for the Senate Majority Leader and lobbyist John Sande to visit Raggio's private club at King's River Ranch to get a jump on the hunting season by spotting where the chukkar were congregating. They spent the night there at the Humboldt Hunting Club where Senator Raggio maintains a trailer of his own.
Remlinger reported the incident to his own direct supervisor, another pilot, who felt the same concerns, but decided to let the matter drop.
Later, with the knowledge and permission of his employers, Remlinger agreed to tell the troubling story to Dr. Gerald Lent, President of the Nevada Hunter's Association, and along with many other sportsmen in the state, a critic of Nevada's wildlife administration.
When Molini realized what Remlinger had
told Dr. Lent, he summoned the helicopter
pilot into a meeting in which Molini pointedly asked why
the former police officer couldn't remember the flight
"the way I do."
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