Owl joins helicopter pilot fighting wildfire

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FRESNO, Calif. (NewsNation Now) — A helicopter pilot fighting the Creek Fire in central California found an unexpected co-pilot midflight: a wild owl.

How the owl got into the helicopter is a mystery to pilot Dan Alpiner and his employer Sky Aviation, a company that contracts with states to help fight wildfires, NewsNation affiliate KSEE-TV reported.

A spokesperson said the wind power generated by the helicopter’s blade is powerful enough to knock a grown man to the ground.

The bird flew into the aircraft through a small 16″ x 16″ window on Sunday.

It stared at the pilot as he did several water drops onto the fire.

“Please don’t attack me,” said Alpiner. “It kinda spooked me for a second there and we kinda locked eyes and the thing looked around and was chill and then I was like OK then you are going to work with me.”

10 minutes later, the owl left out through the window.

“It basically got out where it came in,” said Alpiner. “I was going [to] another drop and then I saw him fly off.”

American Helicopter Flight Instructor Matthew Dowdy said the only explanation is the two were going 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.”

Alpiner is grateful that he and the owl both flew away safely, especially given how dangerous bird interactions can be with aircraft.

“I mean we get to see a lot of cool things in the work, but that is something that I will take with me for a long time,” he said.

The Creek Fire has burned more than 340,000 acres and is 55% contained, according to CalFire.