Gary Turel, owner and pilot for Seaside Helicopters, is Seaside’s original Whirlybird.
He hosted the first in-person “Good Morning Seaside” since the coronavirus pandemic, with about 15 members of the Seaside Chamber of Commerce joining him near the tarmac.
A Tigard resident, Turel surprised them in announcing he will be retiring.
“There’s a point in time with just like airline pilots, really other pilots, you should probably get out of the game before somebody asks you to,” he said. “And so that time for me will be the end of this year.”
Turel learned to fly by getting a job at the Hillsboro Airport when he was 15, earning his pilot’s license before his driver’s license. He was in the Oregon Air National Guard for nine years. He and his family were in the income tax preparations business for many years and owned Columbia Turel Bookkeeping. Seaside Helicopters launched in 1990. Turel purchased the business in 2001.
“This is the 19th year that I’ve had a heliport here,” Turel said. “And last year I shut down for 13 months during the COVID. I just felt that was the wise thing to do.”
Liftoff resumed about a month ago and business has been sky-high since. “We found that demand is actually been so great that we’re gonna have to curtail on occasion just a little bit of that,” he said. “We’re having record days in terms of what we did over the (Memorial Day) weekend.”
Seaside Helicopters offers four basic flights, from a six-minute run over the coastline to a 18 to 20 minute flight for $165.
Turel’s Bell Jet Ranger helicopter can carry four passengers in addition to the pilot. Turel does most of the flying, joined by Gearhart’s Craig Looms — a retired Los Angeles Police Department pilot and U.S. Navy fighter pilot — and Dan Leary, a retired U.S. Coast Guard commander.
Bruce and Tammi Rath, owners of the neighboring Captain Kid Amusement Park, will take over the location, he said.
“The job that they’ve done with that fun park is incredible,” Turel said.
He sees the Raths as the perfect successors for the business.
“It’s hard to find somebody that can buy a helicopter and buy a piece of property,” he said. “The perfect fit is for the expansion in some way or another of the fun park. They’ve proven themselves by what they’ve done.”
Turel said there are a lot of people interested in keeping the helicopter aloft. “But it takes somebody that is going to be here all the time, all the work that goes into this to keep it safe. And that’s the big thing about this is keeping it safe. And that’s what I want to finish this year up with is a very, very safe year.”
Turel figures he’s taken over 100,000 people flying.
“So many people have their first helicopter ride here,” he said. “They view the beautiful colors, see the contrast of the mountain range and the coast. If the weather changes, one day looks different than another day. I especially get delight out of the first flight of the day. And so I just feel very blessed. And I hope that I’ve been able to be somewhat of a goodwill ambassador for the city of Seaside and the whole area.”
During the season, Seaside Helicopters opens at 11 a.m. Flights are first-come, first-served; reservations are not accepted.
For visitors coming from a distance, “Have a plan B,” Turel said, as flights are liable to cancellation for weather conditions, fatigue, or if he thinks something isn’t right about the helicopter.
“Everybody seems to understand, he said. “As a matter of fact, they thank me for being careful.”