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Baird’s wish come true

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By James Bolton

The heavy chopping sound of turning helicopter blades filled the air as Nora Baird was briefed on her upcoming flight.

On a muggy Friday afternoon, through open doors of a reception area, the 84-year-old could see the yellow Robinson 44 lift off of its display position overlooking Winfield Dunn Parkway.

The helicopter landed just behind the building with the pilot preparing for Baird to get on board.

After days of rainy weather that forced Baird to reschedule her flight, her wish to fly was about to come true.

“I’m a little nervous now,” Baird said, but she was ready.

Accompanying her on the flight was Debbie Vinsant, activities director at Cumberland Village in LaFollette, where Baird has lived for over three years.

Vinsant let Baird borrow her sunglasses because of the glaring sunlight on Friday.

“Oh yeah, yeah we’re ready now,” Vinsant said laughing.

Like astronauts about to blast off, Baird and her crew donned radio headsets moving slowly to the pad through the noise and wind as cameras clicked away.

Baird appeared calm, her hands expectantly clasped in her lap as she was escorted outside.

Dan Haynes, chief pilot and owner of Scenic Helicopter Tours in Sevierville, stepped down out of the cockpit of the chopper and motioned for Baird to come aboard.

Cumberland Village staff members helped Baird up into her seat next to the Haynes.

After she settled in, Baird exchanged words with Haynes heard only by her and him. She appeared visibly pleased through the glass front of the helicopter.

Next, she smiled and waved for cameras as the helicopter lifted off and slowly disappeared out of sight.

While Baird was gone, Marci Pace, a young woman working at Scenic Helicopter Tours, explained the extent of the trip.

“They call me Bam” she began.

Next she said Baird’s flight would last about 20 minutes. However  this flight was not following any of the normal tour routes.

Haynes took Baird on a custom route, one that overlooked farmland, lakes and streams, and even the Cumberland Gap.

“The oldest person to ever fly with us was a102,” Pace said, “and the youngest was just 11 days old.”

Though Baird wasn’t the oldest to fly with the crew there, she was the first to have ever won a flight through the Twilight Wish Foundation.

Soon the chopper could be heard outside, and onlookers rushed out to greet Baird after her flight.

Back on the ground, Baird granted her pilot a hug as Pace opened her door.

While she was being escorted away from the helicopter she smiled and posed for more pictures happily answering questions along the way.

“I wasn’t scared a bit,” she said, grinning.

“It felt like we were Peter Pan and Tinkerbelle and just kind of floating,” Vinsant said.

“I might have to be coming back,” said Baird, “I’d be ready to go again right now.”

Baird was born in Lomar, Ky into a coal-mining family. She moved to Campbell County early in her life.

“I worked where they made jeans for forty-something years. That’s been years ago,” she said of her life.

Her closest relatives are her brother William, who lives in Ohio, and her sister Margaret in New York.

Baird also has several nieces and nephews, some of which live in the Knoxville area.

But Baird isn’t accustomed to checking in with people.

“I ain’t even told nobody but my brother. I figured they can look in the paper and see,” she said in a previous story.

The staff at Cumberland Village submitted her wish to fly in a helicopter to The Twilight Wish Foundation, which then partnered with Scenic Helicopter Tours in Sevierville to fulfill Baird’s wish.

“I had never won anything in my whole life,” she said of the contest.