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When tragedy struck helicopter instructor pilot Dave Callen and hoist instructor/rescue specialist Jason Connell, they vowed to do everything they could to reduce the risk of the same thing happening to anyone else.
In 2013, Dave VanBuskirk (call sign SR3), Callen and Connell’s friend and coworker, lost his life during a helicopter rescue operation on Mt. Charleston, Nevada. In response, the two pilots set about making the industry safer, creating SR3 Rescue Concepts — a Las Vegas, Nevada-based helicopter search-and-rescue (SAR) training provider — in his memory.
“We lost a really, really good friend of ours that was amazing at what he did,” said Callen. “It was a dynamic roll out accident with the hook that was being used at the time. It possibly could have been avoided had we, at the time, been aware of different techniques and equipment. So, that’s really the backbone of the company.”
Over the last year, SR3 Rescue Concepts has been working to provide quality-focused SAR training to pilots and crews, with the goal of reducing preventable accidents during rescue operations.
“We want to provide the highest level of quality training to . . . anybody involved in search-and-rescue-type operations, to make those types of operations as safe as possible for the people that are doing them,” said Callen.
SR3 offers light helicopter rescue training, typically conducted with smaller aircraft like the MD 500 and Bell 407; helicopter hoist rescue training with aircraft like the Airbus H135, H145, AS350 AStar, or Bell UH-1H; and short-haul operations training. SR3’s 12 instructors — consisting of flight instructors, hoist instructors and rescue specialists — will often travel to customer locations to provide requested SAR training on the customers’ aircraft.
“We’re really selective with who we take on board to teach for us,” Callen said. “Our group has a very wide range of experience. . . . The only thing that we run into sometimes is finding really good areas to do the training. We’re usually looking for areas that provide a variety of terrain and conditions. . . . So, a lot of times we’re just having to work with the customer to find the best training location.”
If companies outside of the U.S. are interested in sending their pilots to a U.S. location for training, SR3 has that covered, too. The company has partnered with Helicopter Institute in Fort Worth, Texas, which operates a night vision goggle (NVG)-certified Bell 407 equipped with a hoist and hook.
“We have a unique opportunity if people want to use our aircraft,” Callen said. “We’re able to train pilots in that [Bell 407] aircraft for introductory or refresher hoist training.”
SR3 has also partnered with Blackcomb Helicopters in Whistler, British Columbia, which operates a fleet of aircraft used for rescue and utility operations.
A typical hoist operator training course with SR3 is broken down into 10 days, or two five-day weeks, with around four students — for an initial course. “We try not to do more than four [students] because we find that the quality of instruction starts to diminish. . . . We want to make sure that it’s sufficient,” Callen said.
The hoist operator training course starts with a day of ground instruction, followed by mock-ups with the customer’s aircraft. “We’ll have [the aircraft] on the ground in the hangar and let [the students] actually practice running the hoist [and] bringing people in and out of the cabin,” Callen explained. The remaining days of the course are spent flying.
While SR3 has the ability to train pilots and hoist operators simultaneously, the company prefers to train each group separately to maintain the quality of the courses. “If you have the pilots learning how to fly the hoist, and then the hoist operators learning how to hoist, and then the guys going in and out of the door learning, it’s not very conducive [to the students],” said Callen. “There’s a lot of potential for mistakes.”
He added, “We’re giving really good quality training, [and] we don’t ever want to sacrifice that just to make money.”
As SR3 gains momentum, Callen said the team is managing the company’s growth to ensure they don’t take on more than they can handle.
“Our primary mission is to enhance the safety of first responders and those who serve the public,” he said. “We’re representing our friend Dave, so everything that we do, we’re going to do to the highest possible standard. Even as we grow over the years and get bigger and do more work, we’re always going to go back to our roots; it’s always going to come back to Dave.”