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Helicopter hero from Yarnton near Oxford, Oxfordshire saves day in US fire drama in Bent, Oregon + VIDEO & AUDIO
A YARNTON helicopter pilot has been hailed a hero in his adopted American home after saving families from a wildfire.
Flight instructor Jay Bunning was taking a student on a night flight when they saw a big blaze spreading towards homes in the town of Bend, Oregon, at around half past midnight.
The 36-year-old, who grew up in Yarnton, called the emergency number 911 and flew close to the homes so the sound of the chopper would wake anyone near the fire.
- Watch the inflight video (be aware there is the odd bit of explicit language)
The former Marlborough School pupil said: “The fire was spreading fast, climbing up the gorge towards the houses with the families sleeping unaware of the danger. “We circled low to wake the residents and I called 911 to report the fire. As we circled I could see 100ft trees explode into flames, getting closer and closer to the homes.”
Mr Bunning said it was his 19-year-old student who spotted the flames from the two-seater helicopter on Thursday night.
And he said following news coverage strangers had come up to him to shake his hand.
Mr Bunning said: “Bend is a relatively small city and we became local heroes as the story was covered on local news channels.”
He said forest fires were a “common threat” for people living in the city, adding: “All the houses in Bend are all wood so wildfire is a big problem for houses here.
“There have been a lot of houses lost in the past.”
But he said fire crews reached the blaze before any homes were badly affected, adding: “It is hard to say how much damage it would have caused if no one had got to it.”
Patrick Douglas, who was woken by Mr Bunning’s helicopter, told local television show News Channel 21: “They did a great job.
“The pilot and his co-pilot are heroes in my mind.”
Mr Bunning met his American partner Lisa while travelling in New Zealand in 2006. He moved to the US in 2009 and began training to fly in 2010 at the Leading Edge Aviation school in Bend. He started working at the firm as an instructor in January.
The pilot and his partner are expecting their first child next March.
He said: “You only live once and should go ahead and live your dream. Mine was to go and fly helicopters.”
His father Paul Bunning, of Merton Way in Yarnton, yesterday said: “We are proud and chuffed to bits with it.”
He said his wife Wendy died of cancer in 2010 and added: “I think how proud she would be.”
The 55-year-old said his son’s quick-thinking had helped alert people to the blaze before the fire and rescue service arrived.
He said: “For a change it was the helicopter making the noise for a good reason.”
He also said his son, a former Yarnton Primary School pupil, had been in the Kidlington Air Cadets.
But he said an army careers man had told him it was unlikely he would ever fly as so many people wanted to do it.
He said: “He was determined. The guy said he would never fly and he wanted to prove him wrong.”
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