EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story highlights the life of Roger Hershner, the helicopter pilot who died when his aircraft crashed outside of Moundridge, Kan. The story was written by Brian Gawley of the Sequim (Wa.) Gazette, which is the newspaper of Hershner’s home town. It is reprinted here with permission.
By BRIAN GAWLEY
Sequim (Wa.) Gazette
SEQUIM, Wa. – On March 8, a helicopter crashed in a field outside of Moundridge, killing 66-year-old Roger Guy Hershner of Sequim, Wa.
Lifelong pilot, Hershner lead an interesting life that left a lasting mark on those who knew him.
Hershner was remembered by longtime friends as a great pilot and a good man with a wonderful sense humor.
He also was the helicopter pilot in a daring escape from Santa Marta Acatitla prison southeast of Mexico City on Aug. 18, 1971.
The feat was chronicled in the 1973 book “10 Second Jailbreak: The Helicopter Escape of Joel David Kaplan” by Eliot Asinof, Warren Hinckle and William Turner.
The book was made into the 1975 movie, “Breakout,” starring Charles Bronson as the helicopter pilot who lifted Kaplan and his cellmate from the prison yard.
Hershner died March 8 when his Bell 206 helicopter crashed 40 miles north of Wichita, en route to Abingdon, Va., to meet a longtime friend to do contract helicopter work for the U.S. Forest Service.
A memorial service had not yet been arranged by Gazette press time March 10.
CalFire Capt. Arnold Ramirez said he and Hershner met about six years ago as firefighting pilots for San Joaquin Helicopters in California.
“We had some good times, flying around putting out fires in the western United States,” he said. “You could tell he just loved living, very charismatic.”
After Hershner left the area, he would return annually for training in Anaheim and stay with him in Huntington Beach, which was “kind of neat,” because they were able to stay in touch, Ramirez said.
Regarding the prisoner rescue in Mexico, Ramirez said Hershner never brought it up. But if you asked, he would tell the entire story once, from beginning to end with every detail.
“I can’t begin to tell you what an epic story it is. You will have to read the book to really understand what it took to do what they did,” he said. “The movie was loosely based on what really happened. The book is the way to go.”
“Roger was one of those people who was special. You knew it the minute you met him. He had an aura about him. People were drawn to him, kind of like kids go to Santa,” Ramirez said.
Brian Kliesen said he flew with Hershner in New Mexico and he was “an exceptional pilot, an excellent firefighter and a good friend.”
“His exploits in the helicopter industry will be long remembered,” he said.
Ed Mauldin knew Hershner for 20 years, dating back to when they used to fly helicopters in California.
“Roger had a wonderful sense of humor. He was, by far, one of the best pilots in the helicopter industry. He taught me long-line and heavy lift, and power line construction,” Mauldin said.
— Reach Brian Gawley at email@example.com.