Chopper Pilots Save Family Vacation For Nelson Native

Photos Courtesy of Betsy Smith : Ben Smith (left, originally of Roseland, Virginia) poses for a picture with his helicopter pilot saviors, Allen and Patty Russell. After Ben became stranded from his family during hurricane Teddy in NC, Russell and his wife picked Ben up and flew him to Ocracoke Island to be with his family. Ben fixed a huge meal for them as a way of saying thanks. Tuesday - September 23, 2020
Photo Courtesy of Betsy Smith : Ben Smith (left, originally of Roseland, Virginia) poses for a picture with his helicopter pilot saviors, Allen and Patty Russell. Ben became stranded from his family after hurricane Teddy in NC. Russell and his wife picked Ben up by helicopter and flew him to Ocracoke Island. Ben (a culinary graduate and professional) fixed a huge chef’s style meal for them as a way of saying thanks! Tuesday – September 23, 2020

Ocracoke Island, NC
By Tommy Stafford

Betsy and Stuart Smith of Roseland decided it was time to get the family together for a vacation in North Carolina. “Well, because of Covid and not really being able to go out, we decided to rent a house on Ocracoke with all of our family in September but due to work obligations Ben (the Smith’s son who lives in Norfolk) could not get off until Sunday at 3,” Betsy told me Wednesday morning in a chat session from the island.

Timing was becoming an issue for Ben. His Nelson County family had already been on the island since Saturday. Little did they know Hurricane Teddy’s winds and tides made a tremendous mess of Ocracoke’s Highway 12.

Above, Ben’s aerial video of the demolished Highway 12 on Ocracoke Island, NC.

“Then all this weird weather started causing high tides, high wind. Ocracoke officials told us they have never had this much damage with no rain. So highway 12 between Pea Island and Hatteras kept flooding and washing out as did the section of the area between Ocracoke ferry terminal and the Pony Pen on highway 12 leading from the ferry into Ocracoke village,” Betsy continued.

Photo By Ben Smith : An aerial shot above Ocracoke Island, NC days after Hurricane Teddy moved through. Taken Tuesday – September 22, 2020

The North Carolina Department of Transportation eventually got the roads opened by late Sunday, but the back up of cars to get on the ferry was huge. “Ben got there at 7:30 PM, ferry’s were supposed to be running every 30 minutes but due to the high wind and seas on Puget Sound, they were running every hour or so. Ben watched two ferry’s load and leave between when he arrived and 10 PM. He was next in line. Then, they cancelled ferry service which was supposed to run until midnight,” Betsy said.

Ben was separated from the rest of his family that was already on Ocracoke Island. That’s when Betsy had a crazy idea. Her husband Stuart saw a helicopter landing at the local airport on the island as they were driving by. “He didn’t think I was serious when I told him to turn around and go back to the airport and ask if they would do this for us. I said the worst that could happen is they would say no!”

They didn’t say no! A chopper pilot couple by by the name of Allen and Patty Russell were more than happy to go shuttle Ben from the Hatteras airport back to his waiting family on the island. They were already helping another friend out by ferrying the helicopter from Florida to Maine.

Above pilots Allen Russell and his wife Patty take off from Ocracoke Island, NC to go pickup up Ben Smith who had been waiting in a hotel since the weekend to hopefully be able to meet up with his family once the roads reopened.

“The pilot is also a commercial airline pilot and still works. His wife learned to fly and has her pilots license to fly rotor wing because she said if she was going to fly in private planes and helicopters with her husband, she needed to know how to fly too in case something happened to him, they live in Texas.”

Ben snaps a picture of co-pilot Patty Russell from the back seat of the helicopter as they shuttle him back to Ocracoke Island to meet up with his waiting family. Tuesday – September 22, 2020.

It wasn’t a straight shot for Ben and his new pilot friends. They needed to make a fuel stop along the way to make sure they had enough to finish the trip. After a stop near Manteo, NC to top off, they headed for Ocracoke Island.

Photo by Patty Smith : After roughly a two hour flight and waiting three days, Ben landed at Ocracoke Island with his family waiting. Pilot Allen Russell (left) walks along to meet a very thankful Smith family. Tuesday – September 22, 2020

Betsy said she was never so happy to see her son walking from that helicopter after landing. “Elation! Relief! That he nor us needed to stress about the unknown as to when things would open up. Disbelief, that he got to us in this way. And, great joy that our family was finally all together to enjoy each other for a few days. Our children have their own careers and don’t live close, the times we are all able to be together with us, my mom, brother, nephew and niece-in- law is rare indeed.”

But this story isn’t quite over just yet. Remember, Ben is a culinary professional by trade. So he returned the favor to his sky saviors by preparing a meal fit for a king! He invited his new friends over to the rented home on Ocracoke Island to dine!

Ben Smith, formerly of Roseland, VA preps a huge meal Tuesday night for his new pilot friends that got him back to his family on Ocracoke Island. September 22, 2020


After everyone was back together Ben prepared this huge meal to thank two random strangers that picked him up in a helicopter and flew him back to his family. September 22, 2020


Back together again. Ben, his family and friends all pose for a photo Tuesday night on Ocracoke Island after his helicopter journey. September 22, 2020


A proper goodbye. Allen Russell and his co-pilot wife Patty do a low helicopter fly by at the Smith’s rented place on Ocracoke Island Wednesday morning as they were leaving on their way to their next adventure!

Betsy told me early Wednesday afternoon she wasn’t sure when the roads would reopen on the island as they were in pretty serious shape. I asked is it possible to get off the island now?

“No! Not at all! Road still closed! But we got no place to be.”


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