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Helitac and Special Aircraft Precautions 


  Search and Rescue operations often make use of helicopters when they are available as a giant time saving and search tool. If a subject is visible from the air, (not covered in dense brush, under snow, or in a deep steep canyon) an airship can cover a search area an order of magnitude faster than a ground search team. An evacuation that could take hours carrying a litter through a wooded area could be converted into a short flight to a waiting hospital. Airships are often used to transfer rescue members to various field locations. If a climber is stuck on a cliff, a rescue team could be flown to the top of the wall with equipment to execute the rescue. After the rescue team extricates and raises the subject to the top, the airship can return to fly the injured subject to medical help. If weather and darkness permits, the airship could return to extract the rescue team from the field.  

Ground teams must be familiar with safety procedures and loading and unloading protocols with regards to the helicopters used in Ventura and other counties. Even though other counties and the military may use different type of aircraft, the safety procedures presented should allow the rescue member to integrate with other teams easily, safely, and with confidence.

  Ventura County operates three modified Hughes UH-1D's. The UH-1D's are Vietnam war vintage airships that are normally equipped with water canisters for brush fire suppression. All airships are equipped as EMT air ambulance for the transport of sick or injured subjects. The UH-1D's can carry 7 passengers (5 along the aft wall, 2 in jump seats facing the rear, one behind the crew chief and one behind the pilot), a crew chief, and a pilot. During medical transport, the UH-1D's can carry 2 subjects on litters, with two attendants, plus the crew chief and the pilot.

 In all cases the crew chief will sit forward left while the pilot sits forward right. The pilot is always in charge of the airship. The pilot will always make the final decision to proceed or not to proceed based on his experience and knowledge. In regards to anything related to the airship, orders from the pilot or crew chief supersede any regulations specified in this document or specified elsewhere. All activities such as approaches, departures, loading or unloading of equipment or patients (ambulatory or not) must first be acknowledged by the pilot and or crew chief.

General Procedures For Operating With An Airship

Whenever the rotor of an airship is turning, SAR members in the area of the airship shall be wearing a strapped on helmet, and eye protection (preferably dust shield type goggles). Hearing protection is helpful but not mandatory for the Ventura County airships. Hearing protection is required for some other aircraft like the CH-47. In special cases where hearing protection is required, ear plugs or muffs will be issued. No equipment shall ever be carried or raised above head level. Only one rescuer should be under the rotor or in the immediate vicinity of the airship at any one given time unless it is necessary to load a patient into the airship. All gear should be packed inside a backpack or secured to prevent extraction by rotor wash. Button or zipper jackets and verify that pocket contents cannot inadvertently fly loose. Packs and ropes should be carried over one shoulder only with no waist bands applied. Packs and equipment carried in this manner can be discarded and transferred easily if the need arises. All civilian subjects that are required to fly ( i.e. lost subjects) shall be escorted to the airship by SAR Personnel.  

The team leader alone shall make contact verbally, by hand signals, or by radio with the pilot or crew chief prior to approaching an airship. Prior to arrival of a helicopter at a landing zone, the team leader should verify that streamers have been posted to function as a wind sock. Smoke bombs should be available and ready but should not be utilized unless requested by the airship or the airship is having trouble locating the Landing Zone, L.Z. The team leader should advise the air crew of the local wind conditions and any hazards that are present. In addition the team leader should have knowledge of the total number of people to be transported, the destination of the people to be transported, the total weight of the people and gear to be transported, and if necessary the number of flights being requested. If the pilot is to receive destination instructions from the departing team, it is best that the destinations (or directions) are written so they can be handed to the crew chief.

1

 Always approach a helicopter from the front of the aircraft and never venture aft of the rear bulkhead. The tail rotor is not visible when it is rotating. Air crews are extremely emphatic about this safety rule. The safe zone for approaching an airship is shown in figure C18-1. Stoop low to guarantee the best head clearance possible. Never exit or approach an aircraft from an uphill position as this would create even less head clearance as is shown in figure C18-2. Do not step on the water canisters or in any area marked, "NO STEP."  Be careful to never place ones feet inside or under the skid

   

2

During flight the team leader shall utilize a rear headset to monitor radio traffic and to communicate with the air crew. Additional headsets are available, but should only be used if necessary. On short flights it is best to keep the number of people talking and equipment being used to a minimum. When everyone is ready in the passenger section of the aircraft, the team leader should indicate a "thumbs up" until acknowledged by the air crew.

 Normally the crew chief will direct each person to take a specific seat. The 5 aft seats are usually filled prior to utilizing the jump seats. As soon as possible the seat belt should be fastened. Ventura county airships utilize simple seat belts similar to that used in automobiles. When finished with a seat belt, the rescuer should re-mate the seat belt. This makes it easier for the next person to find both ends of the seat belt. If escorting a subject, the rescuer must make sure that the person is secure as soon as possible.

Loading A Helicopter (Rotor Not Turning):

 If possible the air crew will prefer to load all equipment and passengers, verify all equipment is secure, and that all safety belts are in place prior to starting the airship engine. During this type of loading, there is usually time to discuss positions and loading with the air crew prior to loading.

Loading A Helicopter,
(Rotor Turning,1 or 2 Skids on Ground)
:

When the rotor is turning extreme caution should be used when approaching the airship as dust, small rocks, and debris can be easily displaced by the downwash of the rotor. The team to be loaded should remain close to the ground, with all equipment to be loaded a safe distance from the airship. This location must be forward of the aircraft preferably outside the rotor diameter. (Some LZs can be so small that it is impossible to remain outside the rotor diameter.)  The following procedure shall then be utilized:  

  • Upon signal from the crew chief or pilot, the team leader should approach the rear door of the aircraft on the side indicated by the crew chief.
      

  • If the door is not already opened, the door should be opened to the full opened position.
      

  • The leader shall then place his gear on the floor of the aircraft, step on the skid or skid step, and then enter the aircraft.
      

  • The  leader should then move to the far side of the airship, buckle into the seat belt, put on the headset, and be available for communication with the air crew.
      

  • When the previous person loading has connected his seat belt, he should signal to the next member to be loaded, so that the next member can make his entry. In this manner each member is secured into the aircraft prior to the next member starting his load. This minimizes the exposure to SAR members if the aircraft makes an accidental or intentional sudden movement.  
      

  • Each subsequent member will in turn, make his way to the aircraft, enter, and fasten his seat belt. If the door is to be left open, the last member to load will pin the door in the open position with the captive locking pin. If the door is to be closed, the last person to load shall shut the door completely.  

Loading A Helicopter (Airship In Hover):

When a usable LZ is not available and it is imperative to load an airship with personnel, a hover loading technique will be utilized. In this case the pilot will attempt to hold the aircraft is a stationary hover with the skids 2 to 6 ft above the ground. With the airship in a hover, the personnel will climb on the skids, and then enter the aircraft. Prior communication between the team leader and the air crew is required for this operation. The following procedure shall be utilized:

  • Upon signal from the crew chief or pilot, the team leader should approach the area beneath the rear door of the aircraft on the side indicated by the crew chief. The team leader should then place his equipment on the ground.
      

  • The team leader should grasp the skid of the aircraft with both hands and climb to a standing position on the skid. Caution should be used not to use the pilot or crew chief's cabin door handle as a support hold.
      

  • If the door is not already opened, the door should be opened to the full opened position. Then the leader shall climb onto the floor of the airship and signal to the next member in line to proceed.  
      

  • The second member shall approach the airship, hand his gear to the leader who will place the gear into the aircraft. The second member will then hand the leader's gear up to be stored in the airship.
      

  • The leader should then move to the far side of the airship, buckle into the seat belt, put on the headset, and be available for communication with the air crew.
      

  • The second member shall then climb onto the skid and onto the floor of the aircraft. The member on the floor shall signal to the next member in line to proceed. The next member shall hand up his gear, and climb up himself. This minimizes the exposure to SAR members if the aircraft makes an accidental or intentional sudden movement. If the aircraft moves away, immediately take a seat and buckle up for flight.
      

  •  Each subsequent member will in turn, make his way to the aircraft, enter, and fasten his seat belt. If the door is to be left open, the last member to load will pin the door in the open position with the captive locking pin. If the door is to be closed, the last person to load shall shut the door completely.
      

  • The team leader should advise the air crew when all have loaded and are secured.

Unloading A Helicopter (Rotor Shutdown):

Whenever unloading from an aircraft, wait for an indication from the air crew to proceed. The crew may prefer to wait for complete shutdown before exiting the aircraft. When exiting, even with the rotor shut down, exit toward the front of the aircraft. Remember to re-connect the seat belts for storage.

Unloading A Helicopter 
(Rotor Turning, 1 or 2 Skids on Ground):

 The airships are frequently used to ferry rescuers from one place to another. Preferably at least one skid will be placed on the ground for support. The air crew will direct the passengers to use a specific door and when to unload. In general, unloading is the reverse process as loading. The following procedure shall be utilized:  

  • Upon signal from the air crew, the member closest to the exit door will unbuckle and prepare to exit. If the door is not already opened, it shall be opened fully.
      

  • The member shall place his gear near the exit, step on the skid, and walk out of the aircraft. The member shall take his gear, and proceed forward of the aircraft. (in the special case where the LZ space is limited, the member will crouch down next to the skid of the aircraft.
      

  • After the previous member has exited, the next closest member shall exit.
      

  • The last person shall shut the door if it is to be closed or shall verify that the door is pinned for flight if it is to remain opened.
      

  •  When all is secure, the team leader shall indicate thumbs up to the air crew indicating that they may leave.
      

Unloading A Helicopter (Airship in Hover):

Hovering jumping (actually a gentle step off the skid) is most often required near rocky or brush covered uneven terrain. Extreme caution must be used as the aircraft is extremely sensitive to sudden load changes. The following procedures should be followed:

  • Upon signal from the air crew, the member closest to the exit door will unbuckle and prepare to exit. If the door is not already opened, it shall be opened fully.
      

  • The member shall place his gear near the exit, step on the skid, and step out away from the skid of the aircraft. This should be a gentle step with little or no springboard effect. When on the ground, the member shall turn, face the aircraft, and be ready to catch his gear and the next persons gear which will be handed out of the aircraft by the next person in line.  
      

  • The member on the ground shall take his gear, and proceed forward of the aircraft to the staging area. (in the special case where the LZ space is limited, the member will crouch down next to the skid of the aircraft.  
      

  • After the previous member has exited, the next closest member shall exit.
      

  • The last person shall shut the door if it is to be closed or shall verify that the door is pinned for flight if it is to remain opened.
      

  • When all is secure, the team leader shall indicate thumbs up to the air crew indicating that the air ship may leave.

Remote Landing Zones and Heli-Bases:

A remote landing zone is basically any place that an airship can land. Heli-base is an ICS term describing a temporary base for the support, maintenance, loading, and unloading of aircraft for the support of an operation. In addition to the air crew, an on site Heli-base manager and an Air Operations Coordinator may be established based on the complexity of the operations and the number of airships involved. Typically for search and rescue operations the number of aircraft used is less than 3.

3

The best LZs are on exposed ridge areas as is shown in figure C18-3. This allows a 360 degree choice of take off direction. Preferably choose a spot where a drop-off is possible for take-offs. The higher the elevation, the more important the drop-off becomes. If a helicopter is required to make a vertical take-off (no drop-off) it does so completely under the power of the engine alone. With an available drop-off, the aircraft uses less internal power to become airborne and therefore may carry a larger load. LZs should be located to allow take-off and landings into the prevailing wind. Again prevailing winds are more important at higher altitudes or in high temperatures.

 Any loose obstacles in the area of the LZ should be removed within a 75 to 100 ft diameter around the LZ. No obstacles such as high trees or poles should exist in this area. It may be required to trim trees if the LZ is mandatory. The LZ should not be in the vicinity of electric or telephone lines. The actual pad for the aircraft must be at least 15 by 25 feet with no more than an 8 degree tilt in any direction.  

4

A truly vertical take-off from level ground or valley bottoms should not be considered safe at any elevation but the final decision will of course be made by the pilot. A helicopter requires a minimum of 300 ft of altitude above ground level to safely autorotate. (Unpowered dive)  In lowlands one must concern himself with noting downdrafts and the effects of winds through the canyons. The best take-off zone in the lowlands would have a minimum runway of 300 ft along a downhill slope. One must also assure that the aircraft does not meet any obstacle immediately after gaining forward speed such as a steep canyon wall or a grove of high trees.

In meadows one must concern himself with high or deep grass which tends to dissipate the helicopter's ground cushion. High grass may also hide rocks, logs, or other hazards. Dry grass can also be a fire hazard. Ground personnel should check grassy areas thoroughly before an airship attempts to land.  

If available, a wide road, paved or not, is usually the best LZ. Always consider rotor diameter. Turn-outs or parking areas with drop-offs can also be used. Whenever a road, parking lot, or other area accessible by the public is used as an LZ be sure to post traffic control guards to watch for vehicles and pedestrians.

 Assisting in the Approach of an Airship:  

If possible it is best to advise the air crew of the LZ location and ground conditions (wind speed and direction, wind gusts, dust and obstacles, visibility, location) via radio prior to the aircraft's arrival at the LZ. If possible a signal man should be posted in a safe area to help guide the airship into the LZ. Use clock positions as defined in figure C18-5 to indicate directions to the pilot.  

5

The hand signal presented in figure C18-4 are advisory signals and the pilot is under no obligation to adhere to them. Many other signals are used for airship control. The signals listed here are a subset of hand signals that are applicable for use on SAR missions.  

6

 

7

If landings are required at night do not direct any lights towards the airship. Do not use flares to signal the airship. If requested to prepare a lighted landing zone, use vehicle headlamps or bright handheld light arranged as directed.

Special Procedures for Winter Operations:

Snow and ice create special problems for airship operation. Depth perception on snow and ice is often poor, so it is important to mark helipads clearly with objects of contrasting color. Poles approximately 5 feet above ground with orange streamers, securely fastened tarps, or smoke grenades are some methods. If icy conditions exist, remember that sloped landings become increasingly difficult. Rescuers should be prepared to execute a hover jump or a one skid landing. Smoke grenades can be used to paint the snow field semi-permanently with the color of the smoke. Stay extra clear of the airship during take-offs as the airship could slip and torque causing the tail rotor to swing.  

In loose snow conditions, an attempt should be made to pack down the snow prior to the arrival of the airship at the LZ. Loose snow will be blown by the rotor wash which can cause a complete white out condition for the pilot. During landings in deep snow or ice wait for the signal from the air crew to proceed as the aircraft may settle in the snow. Settling could cause the rotor blades to drop below head level. Always keep feet away from the skids. Never straddle the skids. Note that the aircraft may or may not be equipped with wide flotation skids for snow. If the flotation skids are present they will help prevent the airship from settling in the loose snow.  

Since rescuers are more prone to use avalanche probes, ice axes, skis, snowshoes, and other long externally packed devices during the winter months, extra care should be given to protecting sharp edges. Rescuers should also be very careful not to raise anything over head level during entry and exit. (See figure C18-7.) Flights sometimes can be long, with little opportunity to unpack another jacket so dress accordingly for the weather.  

8

 Conditions Not Covered :

As is the case with most elements of SAR, conditions will occur (What IF type conditions) that have not been clearly specified by this chapter. If one is not sure, then ask. The air crew will always do what is best. If one does not think an air operation is safe, then find another way out of the problem. Use experienced members to control operations on the ground. Use the basic safe procedures to solve the problem. Stay calm and do not rush for any reason.  

Never assume an airship will solve the problem completely. Have back up plans in the event the airship has problems with weather, is diverted, or has mechanical problems.  

When operating out of county, the SAR member will be exposed to different airships and protocol. Most military air crew will brief each member prior to take-off. The protocol and equipment specified for flight in Ventura county should be considered a minimum. (i.e., SAR members are expected to wear helmets during flights, even if not required by the local protocol).

 

9

Night Operations:

Ventura County helicopters are equipped with night vision capabilities. Pilots and crew may use night vision goggles for night operations. These goggles are very sensitive to light at the cost of peripheral vision. Any light emitted from sources, both inside the airship and on the ground, will temporarily "blind" the flight crew. Obviously, this is an extremely hazardous situation.

 Ground crews should not use flash lights or other light sources to signal the helicopter. SAR personnel must trust that the pilot and crew can see them. Certain types of I.R. lights and cylum sticks may be used safely around the night vision goggles. These types of light sources should only be used by the team leader with the permission of the flight crew.  

Rescue Hoist:

Search and Rescue team members will be hoisted into and out of confined locations where it is not practicable to land the helicopter. It is imperative that team members be familiar with the capabilities and limitations of helicopter hoists. While helicopter rescue hoists have been in use for over forty-five years our county has only had a helicopter equipped with a hoist since 1995. The hoist is a high-risk operation that requires trained operators and rescue personnel. While the chance of mechanical mishaps have been reduced by high tech designs, the risk of a “communication mishap” Is still significant.

Since most hoist operations involve above ground altitudes of about 120 feet or less, the pilot, crew, and search and rescue member must be trained to recognize potential problems prior to them becoming fatal emergencies.

Since a helicopter is most at risk during a hover, hoist operations must be made as expeditiously as possible, limiting the risk to copter crew and those on the ground operating underneath the helicopter.

A hoist rescue can only be accomplished if the helicopter can hover in a stationary position. Based on the performance of the helicopter it may not be possible to hold a hover at certain locations. The helicopters ability to hover is based upon a number of factors including the altitude density. In simple terms the higher or hotter the location the more difficult it is to hover the helicopter. Other factors include the amount of weight onboard the helicopter such as passengers, equipment or present fuel load. Severe winds or limited rotor blade clearances can also limit the ability to perform a hoist rescue.

It is vital to a safe hoist operation to maintain an ongoing safety-training program for all members who either operate the hoist or ride as a rescuer on the hoist cable. A “safety first” mind set must be maintained by search and rescue members and the helicopter crew at all times.  A “Risk Vs Benefit” evaluation must take place prior to all hoist operations.

As part of the “Risk Vs Benefit” thought process keep in mind the following questions:

  •  If we get injured, or injure others, was it preventable?
      

  • Did we operate within the scope of our training?
      

  • Did we make the victim’s risk exposure even worse than the original predicament?
      

  • Do the injuries of the victim warrant a high-risk rescue technique or are we using the hoist only to expedite the rescue when other safer techniques are readily available?

A hoist evolution is only as good as the crew conducting the operation. The personnel must be qualified and properly equipped. A normal hoist operation requires a pilot, hoist operator and a rescue crew person secured to the hoist cable.

Rescue personnel should wear gloves and a helmet while being hoisted. All loose gear should be stowed as not to be blown away or be ingested into the helicopters motor or rotor system. Wearing a backpack while being hoisted is possible but causes several problems. First it is difficult to enter or exit the helicopter while wearing a backpack. Second, the backpack has a tendency to cause the rescuer to spin while being hoisted. The backpacks additional weight coupled with the rescuers weight can exceed the limit of the hoist or the helicopters ability to hold a hover. The obvious solution to this problem is to hoist gear and or backpacks separately from the rescuer.

There are several important skills that the lowered rescue crew person needs to utilize:

  • Proper exit out of the helicopter, which allows the pilot to maintain cyclic control and stability.
      

  • Incorporate hand signals that are understood by all aerial and ground crew personnel.
      
    A. Hold or Stop - Closed fist
      
    B. Hoist - Tap hand on top of helmet (exaggerate this movement)
      
    C. Cancel - Motion knife edge of hand across throat
      
    D. Disconnect - Two closed fists spread horizontally
      
    E. Wave Off - Cross arms overhead In waving motion
      

  • Be familiar with hoist failure drills and the mechanical limitations of the hoist.
      

  • Complete a safety check of all hookups and double check harnesses.
      

  • Familiarize the hoist crew on electrical static discharge from hoist cables and equipment.
      

  • When in the helicopter, never unhook from a hoist hook until secured by another device such as a seat belt.
      

  • After being lowered from the helicopter unhook only after you are securely on the ground.

The use of a stokes litter or basket is a very common procedure during hoist evolutions when the victim is in need of c-spine precautions or must remain in a supine position. Do not rely on untrained personnel to hook up the aerial bridles to the hoist hook. The aerial bridle secures the litter to the hoist. The victim must be safely secured into the litter using a spider device, webbing, restraints, or rope.

It is important that rescue personnel attempt to use equipment assigned to their unit and not rely on litters that others may provide. Caution should be used when it is necessary to use other agencies equipment. The use of a plastic stokes basket is not recommended as they have a tendency to act as an airfoil and spin out of control under certain circumstances.

There are a number of different accidents that can occur if the litter bridle is hooked up improperly. The most common improper configuration is reversing the head and foot bridle. This situation will lead to an unstable litter and severe spinning can occur.

The use of a “Tag Line” attached to the litter and handled by the ground crew will eliminate the tendency of the litter to spin. The “Tag Line” should only be attached to the litter by a breakaway link, snapping at 250 pounds or less. The helicopter should never be tethered to the ground by the hoist cable or the tag line without the breakaway link.

Ground based rescue teams should be hoisted in their standard sit harness that they train with during rope rescue drills. Also available in the helicopter are hoist able full body vests, and a Strop.

The Strop is a 5 inch orange padded loop which is placed underneath the victims or rescuers arm pits and is tightened by pulling a belt buckle device towards the chest. A crotch strap is then attached from the back of the Strop through the legs and attaches at the chest to the belt buckle device.

Hoist Rescue Equipment: Note: The strop crotch strap is not visible.

Observer: 

There can be times when ground search and rescue personnel will be asked to act as an observer in an aircraft that is going to overfly an area or actually conduct part of a search in hard to reach rough terrain. Anyone picked for this responsibility must have an orientation to the function and know how to effectively use their skills and eyes.

Any successful search of an assigned area by aircraft depends upon the skills of the entire air crew; meaning both the observer(s) and the pilot(s).  Without a doubt, it is a teamwork effort and everyone must do their job with maximum efficiency. The pilot’s job is to put the observer in a position to best see as much of the ground as possible. Sightseeing, searching and point determination are not pilot functions. Flying the airplane or helicopter is his/her primary job.

By the same token, the observers job is not related to flying the aircraft. An observer systematically scans the terrain for clues left by a missing aircraft upon impact, or evidence that a missing person is in the area. Observations are then meticulously logged as to time and location. Obviously an aircraft or person may be the ultimate goal, but state-of-the-art search technique dictates that searchers look for clues and not just the object or person they are attempting to find. There are many more clues than missing airplanes or subjects. In addition, observers should be constantly aware of the aircraft’s position in a designated geographic area or grid. This calls for pin point navigation skills and good teamwork with the pilot. To achieve maximum effectiveness during an aerial search or recon flight, it is imperative that observers and pilots be properly trained. Preferably as a team. The success of a search mission can depend on how effectively an observer and pilot act as the mission coordinator’s eyes and ears.

Visual air search is demanding and very often extremely fatiguing. The state of training and proficiency are important factors that directly determine an observer’s probability of detection. The basics of air search must be thoroughly understood, along with search pattern strategies, sighting characteristics and scanning techniques.

While much of this information can be presented in the classroom, a good portion of proficiency can only be developed by actual hands on practice. This means up in an aircraft at varying altitudes over different terrain.

Fatigue greatly affects crew-member efficiency and efforts must be taken to reduce or delay this factor. Prolonged search operations, especially in less than desirable conditions such as turbulence, weather and rough, high terrain bring on fatigue in shorter time periods. Under normal conditions trained observers can maintain good visual effi­ciency for two to three hours. The following techniques tend to reduce or postpone fatigue for longer periods:

  • At least every 30 minutes change seat posi­tions in the aircraft if the size of the aircraft permits. Even change sides if possible.
      

  • Try various positions until you find one that is comfortable for scanning.
      

  • Make sure the window is clean or un-obscured.
      

  • Use binoculars or spotting instruments only to check sightings made with the naked eye.
      

  • Keep the lights inside the aircraft dim to re­duce reflections and contrast glare. On particularly bright days, wear adequate eye protection for glare.
      

  • Keep the amount of communications between crew members to a level that is essential to conduct the mission.
      

  • Frequently use light snacks and drink during long search operations.
      

  • Permit adequate rest periods between sorties and difficult observer missions.

Eye Movements During Scanning:

A routine pattern should be set up for the eyes to follow during the scanning process. Since the aircraft causes the field of view to change anyway, the eyes should move slightly forward or vertically and pause for several seconds. This usually will equate to about 10 degrees of field view per second. This technique works best when riding in the seat next to the pilot.

In the waist or side windows, the observer’s eye movement should progress from a point as near under the aircraft as is comfortable to a distance that is commensurate with the width of the search­ pattern. (In a half mile track space the observer would scan to a little over one quarter of a mile. On the next pass, even though there would be a slight overlap, this factor would better insure complete coverage.)

An observer scanning the terrain would essentially be performing the same eye routine that a proofreader goes through in looking for mistakes in a document. The proofreader hunts from top to bottom and from left to right: the aircraft observer looks from left to right and back again, or from top to bottom and back again. A sighting is most likely to occur in the area limited to a 5 degree radius in all directions from the fixation point at which the eyes are focused.  As a matter of fact, testimony from experienced observers indicates that finds are most often picked up in the peripheral vision, not in the direct line of sight. Good observers don’t jump too far between fixation points and each time, they pause briefly before going on.

A good technique is to establish a routine that systematically brings every portion of a sector into the observers central visual field, every few sec­onds. If the search is being made at night with the expectation of finding flares, campfires or other signals, the eyes need not pause so frequently in sweeping the visual field. After every three or four focal points, the scanner looks to the extreme right-hand side of his or her visual field and begins over. If plotted, this pattern would resemble the teeth in a saw. Moving the head instead of just the eyes helps to prevent eyestrain.

Little or No Contrast Terrain:

Some large portions of terrain or environment that are consistent in background provide very little­contrast or visual cues for eye focus. Examples of this would be large expanses of water, desert or more frequently, environment covered by snow. Under these conditions, an observer’s eyes have a tendency, after long periods, to focus short of the surface being searched. Unless familiar with this phenomenon, a person may not realize it is happening and important visual clues or more importantly the target, could be missed. To prevent this shortfall problem, the observer should periodically focus on a specific object in the no contrast field of view. This could be a tree, a rock, floating debris, a whitecap wave or even just a shadow. The eyes need some reference to give them depth perception in relation to the surface. Also wearing sunglasses helps to eliminate eye strain.

A second method is to momentarily glance at some nearby object such as the wingtip or interior of the aircraft. This break will prevent the “short focus” problem and when the scanner’s eyes return to searching they will focus properly.

Night and Low Light Searches:

Generally the eyes require about 30 minutes of darkness or low light conditions to become efficient for searching. Scanning at night is best accomplished by establishing a systematic geo­metrical pattern that makes the best use of off-center vision as described above. Following each complete scan in the field of view, the observer should briefly close the eyes for a period of two or three seconds to rest them. Binoculars or other visual aids are not recommended for night searching except for brief confirmation of clues or objects.

Reporting A Sighting:

Any objects or clues of a suspicious nature should be reported immediately to the pilot. Sightings are reported by giving a bearing and approximate range. Bearings are given in terms of clock posi­tion in relation to the aircraft, (See illustration) and range is approximated in mile incre­ments. Example: I have a possible subject at your 2 o’clock position, approximately one quarter mile.

Navigation and Point Determination:

An integral part of the observer’s function is to maintain an accurate position within the assigned search area or grid. This involves constantly reorienting an open topographic map as progress is made through a grid or geographic area. It is a good idea to sketch out the search track over specific terrain and note all objects and/or clues sighted. This would include old wrecks, other search aircraft, footprints, vehicle tracks and even ground search teams etc.. Polaroid type cameras or camcorders can tremendously improve thoroughness of the search effort by providing a picture record of suspicious objects or clues.

Observers Flight Log:

A consistent shortfall in search operations is the lack of documentation, both for litigation and planning purposes. After multiple days of search operations, it becomes increasingly important for the search manager to have access to a record of what has transpired. During any air operations, the observer’s log can provide valuable informa­tion about terrain covered and possible clues. The observer should maintain a flight log covering the entire sortie from take-off to landing. A well kept log provides information about time, place, turbulence, ground conditions, visibility and everything that occurred during the flight. This information could provide the basis for future actions and strategies used by the Search Manager.

Search Efficiency:

How long can you expect observers to efficiently perform their function of scanning? With good flight conditions and well trained individuals, a high degree of efficiency can be maintained for a maximum of three hours. Any adverse conditions such as excessive turbulence, can seriously re­duce this endurance. A 30 to 45 minute rest with light snacks and drink between flights will help combat fatigue as well as boost morale during prolonged missions. A strategy that is often used is to use two flight crews assigned to the same aircraft to fly alternate sorties.

Clues From Arial Observations:

Anything which appears to be out of the ordinary should be considered a clue to the location of a lost subject or search objective. The following are specific clues that an observer should look for:

  • Color -  Any object or clue that definitely contrasts with the background environment such as bare ground in a green forested environment.
      

  • Odd angles of light, differences in texture, discontinuity of surface, movement and vari­ations in contrast all can identify potential search targets.
      

  • Tracks and signals - any line of apparent foot tracks in snow, sand, or grass. Vehicle tracks such as snow-machines or motorcycles, and obviously signals that indicate direction or passage of an individual through an area.  Remember there are very few, if any, straight lines or right angles in nature.
      

  • Smoke and/or Fire - Survivors and lost people build fires to warm themselves and to signal search aircraft. All smoke and fire should be thoroughly checked out.
      

  • Over water, look for rafts, life preservers, floating debris, oil slicks and even actual personnel in water.
      

  • Light colored or shiny objects  indicating the painted or polished metal surface or glass from a vehicle or equipment of some kind.

Conditions Not Covered:

As is the case with most elements of SAR, conditions will occur (What if type conditions) that have not been clearly specified by this chapter. If one is not sure, then ask. The air crew will always do what is best. If one does not think an air operation is safe, then find another way out of the problem. Use experienced members to control operations on the ground. Use the basic safe procedures to solve the problem. Stay calm and do not rush for any reason.

Never assume an airship will solve the problem completely. Have back up plans in the event the airship has problems with weather, is diverted, or has mechanical problems.

When operating out of county, the SAR member will be exposed to different airships and protocol. Most military air crew will brief each member prior to take-off. The protocol and equipment specified for flight in Ventura county should be considered a minimum. (i.e., SAR members are expected to wear helmets during flights, even if not required by the local protocol).

               

HELICOPTER SAFETY RULES


  1. All personnel must stay at least 100 feet from helicopters, unless directly part of the authorized crew working with the aircraft.
      

  2. Always approach or leave an operational helicopter from the front so the pilot can see you at all times
      

  3. Never touch sling/external load, hook or any part of a helicopter until it has made contact with the ground. Severe injury or possible death may result from the discharge of static electricity.
      

  4. To hook up a load, do not attempt to grab a hook and move the helicopter to the sling. Hold the sling eye above you and let the helicopter come to you. Then simply slap the sling into the hook.
      

  5. Keep your head down at all times. Remember that the slower the rotor is moving, the lower it will dip. Depending on the ground contour, wind, gusts, load etc. main or tail rotor(s) may be extremely close to the ground, even when hovering.
      

  6. Never approach or leave a helicopter from any side where the ground Is higher in relation to where the helicopter is resting - you will walk into a rotor.
      

  7. Positively no smoking within 100 feet of helicopters.
      

  8. Remember that under most circumstances depending on visibility, viewpoint and angle, a helicopter tail rotor cannot be seen or heard due to its high speed (tail rotor blade tip speed is right at the sound barrier). Maintain a wide clearance from the tail area and never stand or walk under the tail boom.
      

  9.  Personnel working around operational helicopters should wear hard hats with chin straps securely fastened, goggles and bright jackets or vests.
      

  10. Passengers should wear protective headgear with chin straps fastened at all times and seat belts secured until a pilot or crew chief directs removal.
      

  11. Keep long handled tools. ice axes. skis. litters, radio antenna and similar items low and parallel to the ground when approaching or leaving a helicopter.
      

  12. Ropes should be coiled and secured. Loose, light items such as sleeping bags, parkas and small pieces of gear should be secured in packs or bags.
      

  13. Do not load without pilot’s or other authorized crew members supervision, as only they can best Judge weight distribution and proper tie-down methods. Keep tie­ down straps short to eliminate loose ends which might get tangled in control cables or rotor. Always re-secure tie-down straps after unloading.
      

  14. Passengers should never enter a helicopter until the pilot gives an OK. Enter carefully so as not to interfere with controls, cables and pilot.
      

  15. Do not exit until the pilot gives an OK. Ground personnel should not approach any helicopter until the engine is off and rotors stopped or the pilot signals Ok. Even after touchdown the pilot may, without warning, shift the helicopter’s position.
      

  16. Never stand directly beneath a helicopter or its takeoff or landing pattern unless directed and authorized to hook sling loads.
       

  17. At takeoffs and landings all personnel should be well away from the helicopter. Main rotors may dip to one side as the craft moves and the tail rotor may swing around. Trained crewmen should be in control to signal pilot and keep personnel away.

 

 

  
Ventura County Sheriff's Volunteer Search & Rescue  |  Fillmore Mountain Rescue  |  Team 1
Mailing Address:  P.O. Box 296 |  Fillmore, CA  93016
 
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