What a hoot: Owl rides shotgun in helicopter fighting California fire

What a hoot: Owl rides shotgun in helicopter fighting California fire
An owl hitched a brief ride on a helicopter fighting a California fire. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

FRESNO COUNTY, Calif. — Hooo would have believed it?

An owl hitched a ride on a helicopter while crews worked to put out the Creek Fire burning in California’s Sierra National Forest on Tuesday, KSEE reported.

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The bird alighted on the helicopter during midflight as crews executed water drops on the fire, the television station reported. The owl flew into the aircraft through a window that measured 16 inches by 16 inches, stared at the pilot and then left 10 minutes later.

It’s odd to have an owl enter an aircraft. It’s unheard of to have it enter while the helo is in-flight. It’s an...

Posted by Sky Aviation on Tuesday, October 13, 2020

“It’s an unexplainable and magical miracle for it to stay with you for several water drops, then leave just as it arrived -- safe and unannounced,” helicopter pilot Dan Alpiner told KMPH.

Alpiner was flying water drops in a UH-1 Huey helicopter for Wyoming-based Sky Aviation Corporation, the television station reported.

The pilot was only able to get one photo of the owl, Sky Aviation said, because “it’s not easy to fly a mission and be a photographer at the same time.”

Besides, the pilot was startled to see the bird fly into the helicopter.

“(I said) ‘Please don’t attack me,’” Alpiner told KMPH. “It kind of spooked me for a second there and we kind of locked eyes and the thing looked around and was chill.

"And then I was like, ‘OK then, you are going to work with me.’

American Helicopter Flight instructor Matthew Dowdy told KMPH that the only explanation for the bird to land safely in the aircraft is that the owl and the helicopter were traveling at the same speed.

“It would have to be perfect timing,” Dowdy said. “As far as the bird going in there, it seems crazy. I guess it is just a daring bird.”

And, an awfully lucky one.

“One in a million shot,” Fresno County Sheriff’s Office pilot Johnny Reyes told KMPH. “That guy should buy a lottery ticket.”