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8/31/2011 6:01:00 AM
Quick thinking saves life
Main Photo:Bullhead City Fire Department/courtesyBullhead City firefighters pull the wreckage of an ultralight from the Colorado River Aug. 18 after Kingman resident Harold Cohen, 60, flew the aircraft into high-voltage power lines at Davis Dam. County Public Works employee Clifford Olsen pulled Cohen from the water.Inset Photo:Clifford Olsen
Main Photo:

Bullhead City Fire Department/courtesy

Bullhead City firefighters pull the wreckage of an ultralight from the Colorado River Aug. 18 after Kingman resident Harold Cohen, 60, flew the aircraft into high-voltage power lines at Davis Dam. County Public Works employee Clifford Olsen pulled Cohen from the water.

Inset Photo:

Clifford Olsen

BULLHEAD CITY - Clifford Olsen said he was in the right place at the right time to do the right thing.

On the morning of Aug. 18, Kingman resident Harold Cohen, 60, flew his ultralight aircraft into high-voltage power lines at Davis Dam, Bullhead City Police Public Information Officer Emily Montague reported. "He was electrocuted and fell into the Colorado River."

Cohen told the police he flew his aircraft from the Laughlin rodeo grounds; then followed the river, Montague said. "He saw the power lines crossing the river that were marked with red and white balls to be visible to pilots. He went over the first set. He misjudged. He saw another set of wires and decided to go underneath them, but didn't see another set of lines that were unmarked. He ran into them, was shocked and fell into the river."

That's when Mohave County Public Works Maintenance Crewleader Clifford Olsen, who works at Davis Camp, parlayed his training and motivation to do the right thing, at risk of his own life, to save Cohen.

At around 7 a.m., "I was getting ready to go to Home Depot for weed whacker parts, brake pads for one of our Gators and some other items," Olsen said. "I was swinging toward the front gate when I saw some people waving and heard that someone had crashed into the high-tension wires at North Beach. I headed in that direction and saw him (Cohen) pop up out of the water."

Olsen said he directed "some of my volunteers to spread along the shoreline and keep an eye on the subject as I went about a quarter of a mile south of where he hit the water."

The current was pulling Cohen down the middle of the river and slightly toward the Arizona side.

"It wasn't as close (to the shore) as I had hoped," he said. "He was frantically waving and yelling for help. I swam directly out and turned upstream. I tried to line myself up to where he would be in reach."

Olsen reached out and was able to get a grip on Cohen's hand.

"I had a hold on him," he said. "I told him, 'My name is Cliff and I can help you.' I was doing the side stroke. He (Cohen) was holding on tight to his ultralight frame. We both started to go down. I told him he had to let go of the machine."

Cohen didn't want to release the frame of his ultralight, Olsen said. So Olsen told a white lie.

"I told him, 'I have a boat down a ways that will pick up your apparatus,'" he said. At first, Cohen argued and wanted to see the boat. "I fibbed a bit, but it worked and he finally let go. It took me about 1,000 yards, but I was able to pull him to shore at Swim Beach."

Cohen was "pretty shook up," Olsen said. "I tried to identify any problems. He had obvious burn marks from hitting the lines. The Bullhead City Fire Department arrived. They did a great job. I told him it was a miracle that he lived."

Cohen received burns to one of his arms. He didn't want to be taken to the hospital and declined further treatment, Montegue said. "He wasn't cited. His ultralight aircraft was pulled out of the river by firefighters at the South Beach of Davis Camp."

According to a press release from Mohave Electric Cooperative, the aircraft striking the "230,000 volt transmission line belonging to Western Area Power Administration" caused "an outage at Southwest Transmission Cooperative's substation. That outage in turn affected 24,751 Mohave Electric members from Merrill Avenue south to Hulet Avenue" in Mohave Valley. "The power went out at 6:59 a.m. and was restored at 7:03 a.m."

Olsen's responsibilities at Davis Camp are to work with staff and volunteers and, obviously, to do whatever it takes "to make the park a better place for the public," he said. "We get the work done and make sure our volunteers have the proper equipment and clothing" to accomplish those chores. "We maintain landscaping, septic systems, pump stations, plumbing" and handle the "carpentry, painting, cement work and more. We try to do the work early in the morning before the public starts coming in."

Olsen retired from the Carpenters Union out of New York where he handled construction assignments all over the United States for companies such as Halliburton.

"I would go out and manage crews on jobs such as heavy highways, roads and bridges and power plants around the country," he said. "We worked wherever they sent us. When times were tight in 1977, my father and I worked on the 2nd Avenue Subway tunnel. That paid the bills. Construction work gave me the skills."

Olsen said he and his wife were proud "working people" as she worked for a law firm and then a hospital in New York. When he retired from the Carpenters Union, Olsen went to work at Camp Lohikan, a summer camp in Pennsylvania, where he handled everything - "plumbing, electrical, driving bulldozers, backhoes, dump trucks. I was there for seven years. With heavy construction work, I had dealt with a lot of tough guys. At the 15,000-acre camp, I managed activities for children and parents, and learned lifesaving skills."

"We had been coming out here for 13 years," he said. "I have family in Tucson. We like the environment, the Grand Canyon, Lake Mead.... We are avid outdoorsmen."

Although Olsen enjoyed working at the summer camp, he wanted to move west for the lifestyle and cost of living.

As for the ultralight incident, Olsen believes he was in the right place at the right time.

"We all love people," he said. "That's what we were brought up on. We (Americans) help everyone. Our military has been helping people oversees for many years. I was in New York on 9-11. I don't think there was a person in New York City who didn't want to go in and help. We are only as good as the people we are surrounded by. Ron (Weaver) and Warren (Twitchell) are good people who make all of us at the park feel important and capable of great things. I'm blessed. I have my faith, confidence, good bosses and a great job."

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• Clifford Olsen recognized for his heroism

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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, September 1, 2011
Article comment by: Kingman Grandma

A very Christian act, Cliff! I'm sure Mr. Cohen appreciates it.

See you in church Sunday.

Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Article comment by: J J

This guy is sort of inconsiderate. Someone dives in and risks their life to save him, and he wants to argue about his ultralite and have a debate whilst being dragged to the depths. he's lucky they both didn't pay a visit to Davy Jones' Locker!

Posted: Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Article comment by: David Powers

Clifford Olsen is a real hero and a man filled with common sense. His immedicate decision to help, his delegating of tasks to others onshore, and his method of communicating with Mr. Cohen are indicators that he is a person focussed on making our communities a better place. Thanks, Mr. Olsen!

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