Crews from the Montana Army National Guard hoisted a 65 million-year old dinosaur skull from a hillside Friday as NBCs Today Show broadcast the event live.
With excavation crews from the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman on hand, Guard pilots maneuvered a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter into position.
We like things when they go well, said Capt. Kent Hanson before the lift. We dont like it when they dont.
The helicopter plucked the plaster-wrapped skull of the rare torosaurus, whose claim to fame was having the worlds-largest head, from the hill.
It went exactly how we planned, said Staff Sgt. Don Van Daele after the pieces were safely moved to a distant road.
The rigging was excellent, said Sgt. Carroll Benjamin. The load sat beneath the helicopter just like we hoped. The pilots did a good job.
Pilot Glenn Faechner was also pleased with the operation.
We were wondering why we had to get up at 3 a.m. to move something thats been here for 65 million years, Faechner said.
Members of the Guard had arrived at the remote location 30 miles north of Winnett on Thursday where they began planning the extraction of the fossil, which had been fully excavated by crews from the Museum of the Rockies several months before and sat wrapped in plaster and tarps.
Bob Harmon, head preparator at the Museum of the Rockies, along with the excavations crew chief Nels Peterson and assistant Lora Logi, made final adjustments to the fossil. The crew stabilized the skulls frill — a bone nearly as large as a pool table.
Paleontologist Jack Horner said, the torosaurus skull measures 9 feet from end to end and 7 feet across, making it the largest skull of any land animal.
Maj. Joe Foster, public relations officer for the Montana Army National Guard, said the chance to lift the fragile skull was a good training opportunity for crews.
The Museum of the Rockies contacted us to see if we could assist them in loading up the fossils last fall, Foster said.
Getting clearance to assist the museum, however, was a long process.
The Guard was required to conduct an environmental checklist, a site survey and ensure that it wasnt competing with any private enterprise.
Foster said the Montana Army National Guard has extracted fossils in the past. However, the multiton torosaurus skull was the Guards first fossil extraction in several years. The last took place when the Guard airlifted a thescolosaurus from Makoshika State Park near Glendive in 1996.