'One in a Million Shot': Pilot Battling Wildfires Shocked When Owl Lands in Helicopter

Pilot Dan Alpiner started his flight on Oct. 11 without a co-pilot, gained one mid-air for about 10 minutes, and then completed the rest of his flight alone.

Sound odd? Alpiner thought so, too.

Alpiner was helping drop water on the Creek Fire in Fresno, California, when an owl somehow flew in a 16-inch square open window in the side of the helicopter and landed on the co-pilot seatback.

The pilot’s first thought was that the owl might go after him. If it was gutsy enough to fly into a helicopter mid-air, taking on a human pilot would be child’s play.

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“Please don’t attack me,” Alpiner remembered thinking, according to KSEE-TV.

“It kinda spooked me for a quick second there and we just kinda locked eyes there and the thing was chill and looked around and I was like all right buddy, you are going to work with me for a little bit.”

It stayed for a few drops, around 10 minutes total, and then it took off.

“It basically just got out where it got in,” Alpiner said. “Right when I was doing another drop … looked out and kind of saw him fly off.”

“I mean we get to see a lot of cool things doing this work, but that was something that, I will take that with me for a long time.”

It seems impossible that a bird of any kind could land in a moving helicopter, and American Helicopter flight instructor Matthew Dowdy said the only way it could have worked out is if both were going the same speed.

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

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“It’s odd to have an owl enter an aircraft,” Sky Aviation, the company Alpiner works with, shared on Tuesday along with the photo of the owl perched on the seatback.

“It’s unheard of to have it enter while the helo is in-flight.”

“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.”

The last line, credited to Alpiner on reporter Mederios Babb’s tweet about the incident, is a sentiment many echo when hearing the story and seeing the photo — the whole thing is a bit magical and miraculous, and if it weren’t for the photos, it would probably be unbelievable.

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking