Just before the helicopter took off, Spook turned to Lancaster-a licensed pilot-and asked whether he thought the craft was overloaded. Lancaster glanced around. In his assessment, with 24 people (17 in the hunting party, plus seven crewmen and government officials) and all their gear, the helicopter seemed fully loaded. But before Lancaster, Spann, or anyone could question the crew about it, the rotors clattered into motion, the landscape was obscured by blowing snow, and, with a lurch, the aircraft rose into the sky. "It struggled," says Johnson, who watched from the ground. "At one point, its rotors almost hit the truck." But after a moment, the helicopter gained altitude and headed down the valley.