The daring nighttime canyon rescue of an injured hiker was among the winners at the Night Vision Awards, held during the Airborne Law Enforcements (ALEAs) annual convention in Reno, Nev. The awards, founded in 2011 by Aviation Specialties Unlimited and co-sponsored by Vertical and Night Flight Concepts, are presented to organizations that use night vision systems to promote and enhance safety.
The evenings winners included the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Five-Year Service Award and The Community Awareness Award), Broward County Aviation Unit and the Atlanta Police Department (Five-Year Service Awards), Butte County Sheriffs Department (10-Year Service Award), and the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (Mark of Excellence Award).
The Mark of Excellence Award was presented to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department (LMVD) for its rescue of a seriously injured hiker in Gold Strike Canyon, near the Hoover Dam. The LVMPD has been using night vision goggles (NVGs) for about 10 years, Sgt. Darin Garness, the units chief pilot, told Vertical. Since weve gone on the NVGs, were finding people at night so much faster, its crazy, Garness said. All it takes is the flick of a lighter or a cellphone light. In fact, thats what we tell them when they call 911: When you hear the helicopter, take your cellphone and just move it back and forth and we pick it up miles away.
And thats exactly what happened during the award-winning rescue in Gold Strike Canyon, as the light from the cellphone of the hikers friend was spotted by the aircrew within two minutes of their arrival. However, the hikers injuries were so severe (a fractured pelvis, spinal injuries, a broken arm and ankle, and a head injury), the team couldnt move her to a more open area for rescue as it would have risked paralyzing or even killing her.
So Garness had to carefully lower the Bell HH-1H Huey into the Canyon; 160 feet above the hiker and with just 10 feet of blade clearance from the cliff walls, he held a hover for 25 minutes as the rescue team was lowered down, the hiker secured, and everybody extracted.
It was pretty challenging, said Garness. There wasnt a lot of wind in there, but it was so dark it was strictly by NVGs only, and there was no room for movement; I couldnt slide left, right or forward, I had to hold it there and stay there.
I was talking with the crew chief constantly, because he was constantly clearing my blades. They talked to me for the whole 25 minutes while I just held that hover there while we got the victim packaged up and out of there.
The hiker was taken to an air ambulance and transferred to a trauma center, where she made her recovery. The aircrew was later awarded the Medal of Valor for the rescue.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) won the Community Awareness Award for its use of NVGs in ensuring the safety of national and international visitors during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., as well as during the G8 and G20 Summits in Muskoka and Toronto, Ont. The RCMP became the first Canadian operator to win a Night Vision Award.
We used them quite extensively during the Olympics, Roger Thomson, a pilot with the RCMP, told Vertical. We had a dedicated crew up in Whistler that would fly at night with NVGs. They would do sweeps of the hill, and sweeps of the athletes village.
Thomson said that NVGs had become valuable tool for the units aircrews since they began using them five years ago. Our pilots wear them every night flight. It makes our job that much safer and its just such a regular thing with us now. Our NVGs are on our heads, and we go.
Looking forward, the LVMPDs Garness suggested that NVGs may have even more to offer aircrews. Were getting to the point now where Im developing the [LVMPD NVG] program so that were actually starting to sling it short-haul on NVGs, where we actually hang rescuers 100 feet below the helicopter, fly them around and put them on ledges to extract victims, or for putting search and rescue people into search areas.
So thats the level were taking our unit to, and with me being the chief pilot, I get the chance to really change things and try to develop the program.