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Search and Rescue 2001 Conference Report

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SAR 2001 logo Rotor & Wing's Search and Rescue 2001 conference was held December 4-6, 2001 in San Diego, California. This third annual helo-centric SAR conference was well attended by both exhibitors and attendees. After September 11th, many SAR providers have been tasked with more anti-terrorism related duties. The impact of this focus has been to stretch often already too thin resources. On the other side of the coin, both politicians and the public have gained a better appreciation for SAR assets and that may open the way for larger budgets and more equipment. Still, nobody we spoke with had seen any funds and nobody was any more than guardedly optimistic.

Capt. Ray MillerCapt. Ray Miller, Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Search and Rescue was the keynote speaker opening the sessions. His message about the importance of crew resource management, communication and judgement in SAR operations, with examples from his own experience flying Coast Guard helo SAR missions, was well received.

The presentations varied in quality, as in years past, but overall they seemed to meet with general enthusiasm from attendees and there seemed to be less pimping of product by manufacturer related speakers. That's a change for the better.

Probably the biggest disappointment was the anti-terrorism panel of presenters. Somewhat unnervingly prescience, the conference had already scheduled the panel prior to September 11th. Unfortunately, most of the presenters offered little of useful value on the subject to the mostly civilian SAR responders. The exception was Lt. Glenn Daley, pilot with the New York City Police Department Aviation Unit, who riveted the attention of the audience with his description of the department's reaction to the terror attack, along with incredible "home video" taken by the medic in the back of the first helicopter that responded.

Most in attendance were startled to learn that the second helo to respond was nearly involved in a mid-air collision with the aircraft that hit the second tower, avoided only at the last second by the Boeing's terrorist pilot. The unspoken question in most everyone's mind was, "what if?"

Firehawk demoWhile the exhibition hall received good traffic the first day, the general consensus seemed to be that the second day was pretty much a total bust for exhibitors. The most often heard suggestion was to close the hall during the presentation as traffic, already minim al, was reduced to next to nothing at those times. Despite the grumbling, by the end of the conference the majority of exhibitors had signed up for next year's event.

Down on the bay, a short walk from the convention center, three aerial demonstrations were held including the U.S. Coast Guard with their small boat unit and HH-60 Jayhawk rescue demo, an impressive demonstration of Los Angeles County Fire Department's new Sikorsky S-70 Firehawk, and the Los Angeles Sheriff's big green, mean and much modified "Air Rescue-5," that was flown by last year's winners of the Rotor & Wing Heroism Award.

Jayhawk winches This year's Herosim Award winners were the crew of the H-60 Jayhawk CG 6031, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, New Jersey, that rescued 34 people in one load off a sinking cruise ship (see this Rotor & Wing article "Pulled from the Maelstrom" for details). The award dinner Wednesday night honored these heroes: Dan Molthen - Aircraft Commander, Craig Neubecker - Co-Pilot, Darren Reeves - Rescue Swimmer, and Lorne Green - Flight Mechanic.

On the last day of the conference, many attendees participated in a field trip to U.S. Coast Guard Activity San Diego. There we were treated to a tour of the facility, got to poke around an H-60 Jayhawk and reveived a presentation by one of the station's rescue swimmers.

New Gear

There was not a lot of new gear on display. For the civilian market, the biggest news was the introduction of integrated GPS into Techtest Limited's Series 500-12Y compact voice capable 406 MHz ELT. We were shown a prototype, the GPS chip simply grafted onto the back, with production planned for this coming January (grain of salt mode, of course). No price was announced, but it would be extraordinary if it was less than $3500 and we'd expect probably closer top $4000, perhaps even more. Still, there was lots of interest.

Becker PLBBecker Avionics Systems showed off its new mil-spec MR 509 406 MHz PLB with voice on 121.5/243 MHz. It is a solid looking, aluminum cased unit with a unique folding blade antenna. There was little interest expressed in bring it to the civilian market, at least until PLBs are legalized in the U.S.

On that front, Lt. Commander Paul Steward of the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Search and Rescue told us that he expects approval of PEPIRBs (Personal EPIRB, a marine PLB) by March. The U.S. Air Force has finally signed off on the concept after the Coast Guard developed procedures that addressed the Air Force's unexpected and rather provincial and narrow-minded objections. Too bad it took a year to overcome their reticence to save people's lives.

We also saw the first production example of Lifesaving Systems Company's new "Titanium Medevac IIA" litter. While it costs more than double their industry standard stainless steel version, $1912 vs. $826, it saves 10 pounds (4.5 kg), nearly 40% less, 18 lbs (8 kg) vs. 29 lbs. (13 kg). With weight a major concern for many SAR and EMS helicopters, the Coast Guard's underpowered H-65 Dolphins being a case in point, it is likely to prove very popular. Assuming that to be the case, look for more titanium to be incorporated in SAR gear in the future.

Next year's conference, renamed "Rotor & Wing's Emergency Response 2002" in an effort to broaden its appeal, will be held in Jacksonville, Florida, December 11-13, 2002.

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Publisher and Editor: Doug Ritter
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First Published: December 22, 2001
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