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Donald W. Usher
Donald W. Usher was a United States National Park Service police officer and helicopter pilot who acted heroically on January 13, 1982 following the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 in the Potomac River at Washington DC. A total of 78 persons were killed on that day of both tragedy and extraordinary heroism.
In October 2004, Usher was appointed to the position of Superintendent of the National Park Service Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, Georgia. He now directs the basic and advanced law enforcement training mission for the National Park Service.
Air Florida Flight 90
The day had brought one of the worst blizzards in history to Washington, D.C. At 3:59 PM EST, the twin-engine Boeing 737 was cleared for takeoff and began rumbling down the runway, but ice on its wings hampered its lift. It finally took off but was unable to gain altitude, and at 4:01 PM EST it crashed into the Rochambeau span of 14th Street Bridge complex, plunging through the 1 inch thick ice into the Potomac River. Only 6 persons were able to escape the plane, as all but the tail section was quickly submerged.
The only rescue helicopter arrives
News cameramen watched helplessly from the bridge, being only able to record the disaster for the rest of the world to see. Suddenly hope arrived in the form of a park police helicopter, trailing a lifeline reaching to the outstretched arms of the victims in the water below. At approximately 4:20 PM EST, Eagle 1, a United States Park Police helicopter based at Anacostia Park and manned by pilot Donald W. Usher and paramedic Melvin E. (Gene) Windsor arrived. As the helicopter crew lowered a line to the survivors for towing them to shore, one survivor, later identified as Arland D. Williams Jr., was still attached to part of the plane. He repeatedly passed the line to others.
After lifting and towing two badly injured passengers to shore one at a time, when the helicopter returned, an attempt was made to use 2 lines to haul 3 more, and two fell back into the icy water. By then one of these was too weak to grab the line, so another bystander, a government office assistant Lenny Skutnik, stripped off his coat and boots, and in short sleeves, dove into the icy water, and swam out to assist her. The helicopter then proceeded to where the other had fallen, and paramedic Gene Windsor dropped from the safety of the helicopter into the water to attach a line to her. By the time the helicopter crew could return for Arland Williams, he and the airplane's tail section had disappeared beneath the icy surface. His body and those of the other occupants were later recovered. According to the coroner, Arland Williams who passed the lifeline to others was the only plane passenger to die by drowning.
Multiple acts of heroism acknowledged
United States Park Police officers Donald W. Usher and Melvin E. Windsor were awarded the United States Coast Guard's Silver Lifesaving Medals for their heroism with their helicopter.
The U.S. Park Service is part of the United States Department of the Interior. The crew of Eagle 1, pilot Donald W. Usher and paramedic Melvin E. Windsor, each received the Department of the Interior's Valor Award from Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt in a special ceremony soon afterward.
Roger Olian, Lennie Skutnik, Donald Usher, and Melvin Windsor each received the Carnegie Hero Fund Medal.
See main article Air Florida Flight 90 for more information about the crash and rescue.
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