Even as HAI’s Heli-Expo—the annual gathering of the international helicopter industry—was working up to its official opening on Tuesday, March 5 at the convention center in Las Vegas, there was evidence that real-life helicopter operations were still a daily occurrence for the search and rescue unit of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Force.
Photos by Andrew Drwiega
Shortly after arriving overhead of the Encore hotel’s multi-story car park on a sunny but blustery day, the Bell HH-1H Huey was positioning for its demonstration—and getting a good buffeting at the same time from wind currents swirling around both the Encore and neighboring Wynn hotels, when the aircraft healed over and climbed away.
Ground coordinator Dave Vanbuskirk, a 13-year law enforcement officer with the past six residing with the SAR unit, explained at first that the helicopter was repositioning because of the wind. However, in under a minute we learned that it had actually just received a real emergency call and off it flew to the north-west. The assembled onlookers, all attendees of UTC Aerospace Systems’ pre-HAI Rescue Hoist Users Conference, retired back into the hotel to resume the sessions.
Vanbuskirk explained that the HH-1H would try to return, but this depended on the emergency. The SAR unit has six helicopters—two HH-1Hs and four MD530Fs—supported by four pilots and seven full time police officers. He said that while the unit does not work within the city of Las Vegas, they cover the 8,000 square miles of Clarke County, Nevada. They average around 125 rescues per year and perform SAR, hoisting, medical evacuation and body recovery. Crewmen are trained paramedics, dive certified and can conduct high angle rope, litter basket and standard hoisting operations.
The demonstration was organized as part of UTC’s Rescue Hoist Conference, a one and a half day gathering of operators that included representatives from Careflight Australia; Ventura Country Sheriff’s Department in California; Canadian Forces; CHC/Irish Coast Guard; and the Columbian Air Force.
Col. Falla Vargas of the Columbian AF told delegates that his unit operated a mix of UH-1H and UH-60 helicopters as well as some fixed-wing, from sea level up to 13,000 feet conducting a variety of missions including SAR, CSAR and recovery of isolated persons. He added that due to the conflict within Columbia, all missions, military and civilian, were routed and approved through the National Personal Recovery Center—which reports in turn to the Air Force. Every mission needed an individual intelligence report for a background brief on local safety of operations. Aside from national missions, his force was also sent overseas to assist in the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.
Related: SAR News