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During the Korean War, U.N. forces learn to depend on the Air Rescue Service branch of the American Air Force, whose dedicated pilots often brave great danger while using their helicopters to rescue the wounded. One of the best ARS commanders is Capt. Russ Edwards, a stern but fair disciplinarian, who constantly reminds his men that when they take unnecessary chances and damage their helicopters, a wounded man may not receive the help he needs. Of particular concern to Edwards is Lt. Pete Stacy, who had trained as a jet pilot but because he also had helicopter experience, was transferred to ARS. After Stacy pulls yet another dangerous stunt, Edwards reprimands him, telling him that because the helicopters are not equipped with weapons, his duty is to pick up the wounded and not engage the enemy. Edwards is in turn cautioned by Lt. Col. Philip Stoneham, who informs him that his unit has had more helicopters out of commission than any other, and that he must improve his safety record. Stoneham offers to send the over-worked Edwards on leave, but he declines and promises to whip his team into shape. Meanwhile, Stacy, his co-pilot, 2nd Lt. Tim Vernon, and a medic are on a mission, and after the medic welcomes a wounded soldier aboard his "taxi," the soldier frantically points out that his patrol is trapped by an enemy tank. Although Vernon insists on calling on a jet squad for backup, the arrogant Stacy charges the enemy tank, shooting flares to distract it from the patrol. The jets arrive in time to bomb the tank, but not before Stacy's helicopter is shot through the rotor blades. When he arrives back at base, an infuriated Edwards lambasts him for his carelessness, while Stacy bitterly replies that he would rather be "in the batting box" than serve as a mere "waterboy." Edwards tries to explain how much jet pilots admire the helicopter flyers who save their lives and vows to work him hard until he understands how much the ARS means to those it aids and their families. The next evening, Edwards commands Stacy to accompany him during a briefing of Stacy's old squad, during which they explain the ARS's function. Stacy is embarrassed in front of his friends, but nonetheless tells them that if their jet becomes disabled, they should attempt to bail out over water, where one of the large "Dumbo" rescue planes can pick them up. Edwards then explains that due to the limited range of the helicopters, they have an ARS station on one of the northernmost islands held by U.N. troops, although it is deep in enemy territory. Stacy is nonplussed when Edwards then announces that he is assigning him to the island, called K83, the next day. Later, Edwards joins Stoneham at central headquarters to help coordinate rescue operations during a big push against the enemy. Meanwhile, at K83, Stacy gets a call from jet squadron Blue Boy and picks up downed pilot Blue Boy Three without any problems. The copter does not have enough fuel for another rescue and must return to base immediately, but when Stacy hears a mayday from jet pilot Lazy Joker Two, he decides to pick him up. Vernon objects, but nonetheless helps to execute a perfect water rescue of the pilot. Listening on the radio, Edwards worries that Stacy will not be able to return to the island before running out of fuel, and that they will lose all of the men as well as the helicopter. While they fly over enemy territory, Stacy sees an abandoned enemy truck and decides to use its gasoline in the helicopter, despite the fact that the craft requires aviation fuel. They retrieve the gas tanks and make a hasty retreat, just as a group of enemy soldiers head toward them, and despite loud protests from the engine, reach K83 safely. After landing, Stacy is castigated both by Edwards, who tells him that a Dumbo rescue plane was only five minutes away from reaching Lazy Joker Two, and mechanic Lt. Joe Kirk, who states that the chopper's engine may have suffered permanent damage from the gasoline. Realizing that he risked his crew's lives, Stacy states that he will be the first one to take up the repaired chopper and will do so solo, but the next day, when another mayday comes in, Vernon and their radioman, S/Sgt. Slats Klein, join Stacy on the run. The downed man, Lt. Smiley Jackson, is from Stacy's old unit, as is Danny, the jet pilot circling over Smiley's location. Stacy and Vernon are both worried, as the valley in which Smiley has landed is unusually quiet, and they fear that the enemy is using Smiley as an inadvertent decoy to snare the helicopter. Danny yells at Stacy to land and pick up Smiley, but Stacy continues to canvas the area, until finally he and Vernon agree that they must take the risk. When Slats lowers the sling for Smiley, however, Smiley is killed by enemy fire, and Stacy is shot in the chest. Stacy is forced to crash-land the helicopter, and while Edwards and his co-pilot, Harry, begin the emergency run to pick them up, Medic Capt. Larsen tends to Stacy as Vernon and Slats camoflague their helicopter. Realizing that the enemy will be looking for a downed copter, Edwards uses smoke flares to divert the enemy into believing that his is the damaged vehicle. Desperate to locate the enemy's exact location so that the jets can strike them, Edwards continues to expose himself to their fire. More machine-gun fire and mortars attack both Edwards' helicopter and Stacy's position, but finally, Edwards relays the enemy's position and jet pilot Sam bombs them. Edwards lands and rescues Stacy and his crew, and later, after he has recuperated, Stacy proudly delivers Edwards' speech about the ARS to a new group of jet pilots.