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The Flying Doctor

(From Bob Dotson, NBC News National Correspondent)First. Let me thank the many, many people who emailed me about "Life in a Jar," last week's American Story with Bob Dotson. The one question asked over and over.  How do you find stories no one else is reporting? Oftentimes they are handed to me by fellow professionals whose deadlines force them to pass such stories by. I began my career, back

(From Bob Dotson, NBC News National Correspondent)

First. Let me thank the many, many people who emailed me about "Life in a Jar," last week's American Story with Bob Dotson. The one question asked over and over.  How do you find stories no one else is reporting? Oftentimes they are handed to me by fellow professionals whose deadlines force them to pass such stories by. I began my career, back when the earth was cooling, as a cameraman. Some of the best tips come from friends on the other side of the lens, photojournalists who see something interesting while I'm covering something else. Case in point. Today's piece about a doctor who flies a bush plane into remote areas of the Idaho wilderness.  WATCH VIDEO NBC Cameraman Ray Farmer dangled from a chase plane without a door -- in sub zero temperatures -- before my producer, Amanda Marshall and I arrived. Here's how he did it:

A Bluebird Kind of Day

(Ray Farmer, NBC News Cameraman)

It's 7 o'clock in the morning at Freidman Memorial Airport in Hailey, Idaho.  Dr. Richard Paris rolls open the hanger door, revealing the silhouetted mountains that surround the airport. They are just starting to show the first signs of sunlight. 

That doesn't mean that it is getting any warmer. The temperature is staying at 5-degrees below zero. "It's going to be a bluebird day!” Dr. Paris says. "There's not a cloud in the sky, and it's a great morning for flying in the mountains." Dr. Paris pulls his Cessna 210 out into the cold dawn air to do his pre flight inspection. He checks the entire plane, not only with his eyes, but also with his hands. He even draws some fuel into a glass tube from under the wing to make sure no condensation has formed in the gas tanks.

  How was I going to film him flying from Hailey to Challis, Idaho, about 100 miles away and on the other side of the Sawtooth Mountains? Of course, I'd fly with him and with my camera, but we also needed some good close-up video of his plane in the air. Dr. Paris says, "My buddy Galen is a pilot, so you can go up with him and shoot from his plane. We'll come back and land in Hailey before we fly up to Challis in my plane." Sounds like a good plan to me, and only for a moment do I wonder...who is Galen and what kind of pilot is he? 

 We walk over to meet Galen Hanselman and you can tell from the talk that these two men love to fly. Galen has written guidebooks about backcountry flying. I immediately feel comfortable with him.  

 He has already taken off the door next to the co-pilot seat on his airplane.  It's very difficult to take pictures through Plexiglas.  This will assure me good footage of Dr. Paris flying.

 I have brought my normal winter gear with me, down jacket, wind proof gear, etc., but it is going to be extremely cold once we get up in the air, flying with no door. Dr. Paris brought out his down-filled camo coveralls from Cabalas that he uses for duck hunting for me to wear over all of my other clothes. I feel like the Michelin man. But once we get up in the air, I'm sure glad I have all of the layers on.

 Dr. Paris takes off first that morning. Galen and I race down the runway and speed after him.  As we climb, the Pioneer and Sawtooth mountains start to come into view above the foothills that surround Hailey and the Ski resort towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley. The morning sun is glowing orange off the rugged snow covered peaks. It is a breathtaking sight. We follow the Little Wood River that is meandering below us and the two Cessnas start to look and feel very small as we climb into the landscape that surrounds us. The sub-zero air from the opening where the door should be quickly fills the cockpit as Galen and I start to climb higher following Dr. Paris. The two pilots fly in tandem so well together it made filming easy. Galen is able to position his plane not far from Dr. Paris's left wing, allowing me to get the beautiful shots we needed for the story. Looking through the viewfinder of my camera, filming Dr. Paris flying in the mountains, I almost forget this man's mission-- helping people in faraway Idaho towns.

 Once we get the shots from Galen's plane it was time to head back to Hailey so I could jump in with Dr. Paris and fly up to Challis, where patients in the small clinic there would be waiting for him. It was good to be in a plane with both doors on. I use two cameras to film Dr. Paris inside his plane-- a small DV camera and also my larger TV camera, which was almost too big to fit in the cockpit. Dr. Paris doesn't fly up and over the mountains to the small towns he serves; he flies around them, weaving in and out below the peaks that sometime tower above his plane. It is a very smooth ride. We talk awhile and film awhile and I begin to realize that for Dr. Paris, flying is as much a passion as taking care of the people who need him. He loves the beauty and remoteness of this part of Idaho. There are not many roads down there, and he tells me sometimes he has to land on backcountry airstrips made of dirt. As we leave the mountains, the Salmon River and it's valley come into view below. Dr. Paris descends a little and starts to follow the river. As the little town of Salmon passes by, he tells me that we aren't very far from Challis now. Dr. Paris eases the Cessna down, touches the landing strip, and rolls to a stop at a car that will take him to see his patients. The prop of the little plane rattles to a halt, and then Dr. Paris steps out of the plane to greet his ride. It is very interesting to watch Dr. Paris transform from pilot, to doctor.

 It's 4pm now. After a full day at the clinic, it is time for the trip back home to Hailey. It was a busy day for Dr. Paris. From new babies to senior citizens, he sees it all. Back in the plane, we race down the small runway and lift into the air. We actually catch up to the sun a little as we start to head back through the mountains. "What a great day", Dr. Paris says. "I delivered that baby we saw today and it was good to see how well she was doing". The Salmon River disappears below as we start to weave back through the Pioneers towards home. The glow of the twilight sky makes for some very nice pictures. Dr. Paris has a smile on his face as the lights in the small town of Hailey start to appear between the darkened hills around it. "Just another day at the office," Dr. Paris says. And what a stunning office it is."

 On Today's American Story with Bob Dotson, we try to find such people, the ones who lead ordinary lives with extraordinary passion.  These are the people who inspire the novels, which get made into movies, that actors star in, so we in the media can interview those actors about the people they portray.  I just think you ought to meet the real people ... first. 

 If you see someone I ought to profile, don't pass by.  Drop me an email.