Facilities Management’s Brent Offenberger hoped for an uneventful vacation fishing trip in Newport News, Va., on the James River. The outing, which included his teenage son, and father-in-law, appeared to be going as planned - until the unimaginable happened. With virtually no warning, a U.S. Navy MH-60S helicopter crashed into the river during a routine training mission.
Although it was not uncommon for Offenberger to see air training exercises around the Chesapeake Bay area, he said they witnessed a scenario that seemed scripted for an action-packed movie.
“Initially, they circled around us three times” Offenberger said. With a 500-feet away view, he knew something was about to happen when the helicopter began to descend. “They hovered about 20-feet off of the water, the top blade of the propeller pulled the water up in the air like a fountain, and the mist, because of the wind, blew over on us.”
Within seconds of the crash, the Good Samaritans took action. As their boat approached the scene there was no sign of the crew. One of Offenberger’s immediate thoughts was he would have to jump into the river, but suddenly, three crew members who were aboard the helicopter emerged.
Offenberger, a licensed master plumber in facilities Zone 7, instantly inquired about “how many souls were aboard” the chopper and confirmed none of the crew were injured. He, then, with the help of his son and father-in-law, assisted the crewmen aboard the fishing boat.
A veteran UNC Charlotte employee, Offenberger attributed his preparedness to on-the-job first aid training he participated in a few years ago. Currently a student pilot, he said he knew to inquire “how many souls” were aboard based upon his lessons and time flying.
“From the aviation perspective I don’t have a fear up there, but now I see how quick something could happen,” he said.
In appreciation of the heroic act, one of the three rescued tore off a patch from his flight suit. Offenberger says the family plans to keep it in a shadow box with news clippings about the incident.
Offenberger will complete training for his private pilot license in September.
Brent Offenberger, center, poses with his father-in-law and son in front of their fishing boat.