SANTA YNEZ, Calif. - Helicopter rescues amid the devastation of Hurricane Harvey are among the more compelling images from the ongoing effort to save lives in the disaster zone.
Pilots and crew are flying into difficult and dangerous conditions, hoisting people of all ages to safety. Helicopters are proven lifesavers on the Central Coast in times of emergency.
The role of helicopters in saving lives in Santa Barbara County falls mainly on the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit based at the Santa Ynez Airport.
"The hoist-capable aircraft really are our primary rescue helicopters," said Air Support Unit supervisor Lt. Erik Raney with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. "That enables us to get into areas that are inaccessible by ground crews, lower a rescuer down to a victim, bring them back into the helicopter and take them straight to the hospital."
When the call for help comes in, 9 times out of 10 the Sheriff's Department Air Support Unit will respond.
"It really is the primary job of the air crew when the call comes in to determine whether or not the aircraft is the best rescue platform," Lt. Raney said. "Then they go through a process of risk evaluation to determine whether or not its even safe to get a helicopter into that area."
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department Air Support Unit's five helicopters, one of which is shared with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, conduct hundreds of operations every year.
Most are for law enforcement purposes, but many involve emergency situations where lives hang in the balance.
Video of the ongoing helicopter rescues in Texas and Louisiana highlight the potential danger involved in lifesaving flights in times of emergency.
"Factors such as weather, location, any ground obstacles like buildings, towers, trees, power lines," Raney said. "All of those come into effect when they are making a determination if they can get a helicopter rescue."