Hovercraft aids rescues in water and on ice
Bloomington Herald Times, Bloomington, Indiana USA
3 January 2011
by Abby Tonsing
A man in a wetsuit floats in the frigid water of Lake Monroe. His red-hooded head bobs above the water’s surface and resembles a buoy.
A dark green hovercraft glides, like a hockey puck, on the ice toward the floating man. The afternoon sun and recent rain have created patches of standing water on the shining ice.
Steve Stafford navigates his Neoteric hovercraft on
the ice at Lake Monroe in Bloomington Thursday
as he and Nick Pridemore, in back, conduct cold-
water rescue drills with Jordan Wheelock, in the
water, near the Cutright boat ramp.
As the craft approaches, it slows and slides laterally toward the hole in the ice, kicking up some spray.
The two men in the hovercraft first grab the man under his arms and try to slide his back up the side of the hovercraft’s skirt and into the vessel. They share a laugh, and the man in the red wetsuit flips over onto his belly and assists his rescuers by crawling into the hovercraft.
The simulated water rescue on the ice by hovercraft was only a test Thursday afternoon on Lake Monroe, in the waters off the Cutright boat ramp, but it looked like a real emergency situation to those driving on Ind. 446, who slowed their cars to watch.
Steve Stafford, left, helps Jordan Wheelock into his suit in preparation
for training Thursday at Lake Monroe in Bloomington.
Steve Stafford, who works as an officer for the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, has been operating hovercrafts since about 1993. Hovercrafts make good water rescue vessels because they are not affected by water current and do not get snagged or broken by items hiding just underneath the water’s surface. Hovercrafts maneuver across ice and traverse sandbars, Stafford explained.
With the turn of a key, the vessel’s pack-cloth skirt fills with air and allows the craft to hover about nine inches off the ground. A fan in the back provides the lift and thrust; closing the thrust reverses changes the air flow and acts like an air break.
In hover mode, it’s like floating on a cushion of air, Stafford says, and the craft can also be settled down to float like a boat. On water, it can move at 35-40 mph. On ice, it can go about 60.
Stafford said he receives an estimated three or four calls a year from fellow emergency responders who request his assistance with his hovercraft.
Most notably in June 2008, Stafford used his hovercraft to pluck 23 people to safety in one day during severe flooding conditions in the Nashville and Columbus areas, he said.
He also gets calls to save souls of the four-legged sort. Recently, Stafford fielded a call for help rescuing two deer that had been stranded on ice for two days in St. Louis. Just as they were about to make the drive, he learned the deer had already been rescued.
Right now, Stafford uses his own personal hovercraft in his rescue operations and search missions. He’s preparing to restore two others with newer equipment, as time and money allow, he said. To assist with that end, Stafford started a not-for-profit organization, Project H.E.R.O. “short for Hovercraft Emergency Response Operations” for his team of hovercraft operators who use the crafts in times of natural disaster and to assist police in search and rescue missions. His group became a not-for-profit in November, he said.
The price of a hovercraft can start at about $18,000 and increase from there, he said. “To me, the price is worth it. If you save one life, it pays for itself.”
Aside from his duties as an officer for the sheriff’s department, Stafford also works part-time for Neoteric, a company in Terre Haute that manufactures hovercraft.
About Project HERO
Project Hovercraft Emergency Rescue Operation team members include Steve Stafford of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department; Rick Nicholson, a Lawrence County emergency management director; Nick Pridemore, a youth pastor from Bloomington and a Marine veteran; Austin Malone, a teacher in Mitchell; and Ted Maze, an emergency responder.
For more information, contact Stafford at 812-276-8109 or friend the group on Facebook at Project H.E.R.O. Inc.