NEWS10 Special Report: Chopper Rescue

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The New York State Police Aviation Unit tracks suspects from the air, helps drop water on brush fires and rescue injured hikers.

As their missions have increased, the Aviation Unit has grown from the single pilot and plane it started with in 1931 to three dozen pilots and 19 aircraft today. Members of the unit train each month for hoist rescues that have the lives of their crew as well as total strangers hanging in the balance.

During hoist rescues, a crew member comes down from the hovering helicopter and sends an injured person back up.

“The hoist missions are extremely high risk,” Technical Sergeant Kathy Humphries said. “You’ve got a live person hanging off that hook, and their life depends on it.”

Humphries is the first female pilot with the Aviation Unit. She said crew members have to make sure everything is working properly to ensure safety during hoist rescues. That’s why they train each month with crews from other agencies who also take part in the rescues.

“It’s just like practicing for a sport,” she said. “You want to make sure you’re in the best possible shape.”

GALLERY: Chopper Rescue

During hoist rescues, the pilot navigates to the scene and constantly assesses the weather and fuel conditions. Once they get to their location, it’s crucial to maintain a stable hover, which can be a challenge when faced with updrafts in the mountains.

“Because that can present a dangerous situation to the air crew,” Humphries said. “When you have the hoist, the litter, swinging it might even come up and hit the rotor blades.”

Humphries said during hoist rescues, the crew has someone’s life in their hands.

“Yes, that is constantly going through your mind,” she said. “It is your responsibility for the entire safety of the entire air crew.”

The hoist operator acts as the eyes in the back of the pilot’s head making sure the rotor blades are clear as they lower the rescuer and receive the victim.

“I think the immediate gratification is there, especially for medivacs,” Humphries said. “You arrive at a scene, you pick up a patient, you bring them to the hospital, and you realize that you are actually assisting in lifesaving efforts. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Although the Aviation Unite is headquartered in Albany, there are four stations around the state, so they can get to scenes as quickly as possible.

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