Joel Boyers of Nashville, Tennessee, had just helped his fiancée, Melody Among, earn her pilot’s license Saturday morning. They were on their way home to celebrate when he received a panicked call from a stranger.
Joel, who co-owns private helicopter service HeliStar Aviation, didn’t know who was on the other end of the line.
The woman told him she’s from Pennsylvania, but her brother and his two daughters in Waverly, Tennessee, had been trapped on a rooftop. She had been calling charter companies, hoping that one of them could airlift her loved ones to safety.
Hurricane Ida had dropped 17 inches of rain down on the Nashville area in just one day. Western Nashville was significantly damaged, and authorities were struggling to rescue people who had been stranded because of downed power lines, raging floodwaters, and high winds.
Joel, who has been a helicopter pilot for the past 16 years, knew it would be dangerous to fly his aircraft in such terrible weather, but he just couldn’t ignore the stranger’s call for help.
The internet was down at the time, so Joel wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the house he’s supposed to look for, but he flew on anyway.
“I thought, ‘How would I feel if I told her I’m not even going to try?’” he told AP. “She just so happened to call the right person, because I’m the only person crazy enough to even try to do that.”
Joel and Melody set out to begin their impromptu rescue mission. But along the way, they kept seeing other people also stranded on their roofs.
A few people were out in their boats to bring their neighbors to safety, and one person was helping with a jet ski, but Joel and Melody were the only ones in the sky. First responders haven’t arrived at the scene yet.
“As soon as I popped over the ridge, it was nothing but tan raging water below me,” Joel said. “There were two houses that were on fire. There were cars in trees. There was tons of debris. Any way debris could get caught, it was. I knew no one was going to be able to swim in that.”
Flying a helicopter in these conditions was difficult. Joel had to navigate around high-voltage electric lines, hover over floodwater, and land on uneven and sloped rooftops.
Jeani Rice-Cranford, a Waverly resident, watched from a nearby hilltop as the couple rescued people trapped on roofs.
She said there was a group of four people who had been screaming for help for hours, but she had no way of getting to them. So when Jeani saw Joel’s helicopter flying down to rescue them, she felt a huge wave of relief.
“There was a gust of wind, and the helicopter kind of shifted,” she recalled. “We all just held our breath. We were just watching with our mouths open, hoping and praying that he would be able to get them.”
When the authorities arrived, Joel left the rescuing to the pros. But by then, he had already saved 17 lives!
He later heard from the woman who had called him from Pennsylvania. She told him the good news that her brother and his family made it out safely, but Joel didn’t know if he was the one who rescued them.
Joel may have been the one to save these people’s lives, but the experience had been equally gratifying for him.
“I literally prayed just days before this that God would give me some meaning in my life, and then I end up getting this call,” he said.
Watch how Joel and Melody’s rescue played out in the video below.