When Cal OES needs to mobilize mutual aid the California National Guard is always at the ready, with dedicated highly trained personnel and the latest in high tech tools. Major John Allen, commander of the Stockton AASF, recently took Cal OES and other search and rescue coordinators on a night mission to show off their newest capabilities.
“Tell us when you want us, what operational cycles you want us,” said Major Allen.
On this night 33 search & rescue coordinators from counties around California boarded the California National Guard’s new Ch-47F Chinook, a massive dual-rotor advanced multi-mission helicopter.
They’re all just minutes away from seeing first-hand how the CalGuard can use the latest technology to help them find the missing in total darkness.
“It’s just a great opportunity for them to get exposed to some of the different capabilities that are out there,” said Major Allen.
The Chinook is quickly running-up an impressive record for search-and-rescue missions. The guard uses them in situations that can’t be done, or done safely, by other helicopters.
Examples are a recent rescue on the summit of Mt. Whitney, and another, a swift-water rescue when they were able to bring the survivor into cabin through a door in the belly of their benevolent beast.
But what we’re really all here to see tonight are the new night vision goggles -NVGs – and how well they work.
They intensify light by 2000 to 3500 times, making the invisible very visible.
“This is some of the most awesome technology I’ve ever held in my hands,” said Shawn Boyd, Cal OES public information officer. “Looking through this thing it turns night into day.”
With the naked eye we couldn’t see the rescue demonstration going on beyond a line of trees about 200 yards away, but it was easy to witness with the NVGs as Boyd explains.
“So what I’m seeing now is the Chinook and the Lakota helicopters circling around and the light coming through the trees looks like one of the scenes from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or maybe something out of the X-Files.”
Boyd goes on to say “this technology is incredible. I don’t think you could hide from anyone with one of these.”
A sample in the video shows the rescue of two lost hikers, split screen. One the left is video without the NVGs, while on the right is video with NVGs. You can easily see a speck of light coming from the victim’s flashlight and then the hikers themselves. This technology made a recent rescue in mono county possible.
“A back country enthusiast had a severe injury, he had broken his leg severely and was in danger of dying,” said Cal OES Deputy Chief Matt Scharper, who’s also the state search and rescue coordinator.
Major Allen agrees, saying the victim had “…been out there overnight so he was in a pretty bad situation…”
Deputy Chief Scharper goes on “…he’s at 11 thousand feet and if we don’t rescue this individual he’s going to die. [The] California highway patrol, and the United States Navy from Fallon [California] tried to rescue this individual, but because of the altitude, the conditions, the wind they couldn’t do it.”
But the CH-47F has the design and the power to overcome both the altitude and the wind.
“Yet the Cal National Guard, with the resources you saw last night [during the demonstration] was able to get in there, with that brand new Chinook that they have, they were able to face the winds, hoist the injured individual out and get him to a hospital,” said Scharper. “And as a result saved his life.”
So this Chinook and NVG demonstration, emphasizes Major Allen, sends a very important message to SAR coordinators statewide.
“If they think that something’s going to continue into the night and they could potentially save a life by extending a search, they should request our support.”