Air Squadron helps save lives in Washoe County
If you're lost in the barren Nevada desert, the Washoe County Sheriff's Air Squadron might be dispatched to find you.
They're an all-volunteer team made of 27 pilots, four observers and 17 airplanes. They donate their time, money and aircraft. The crew members are auxiliary deputies for the sheriff's department.
"Most of them are retried military, ex-military, ex-airliners," said Walt Murphy, pilot of a Chinese Nanchang CJ-6.
The Washoe County Sheriff's Office requests the pilots and observers when there's a missing hiker, a stuck ATV or a lost couple who took a wrong turn.
Charlie Kettering is 87-year-old retired United Airlines Pilot and Korean War Veteran who has been on the Air Squadron since 1992.
"I just do it because I feel I should just give back," he said.
Kettering was born seven years before the Air Squadron was formed. The unit, celebrating its 80th year, is the oldest of all the five Washoe County Search and Rescue units.
Their missions help save lives. The airplanes can cover the 6,600 square miles of Washoe County and even lends its services to Modoc County, California, and Lake County, Oregon.
The Air Squadron can often reach an emergency scene faster than ground crews.
"If there's a search in Northern Washoe County that would take us three to four hours to get there by ground, they can get there within an hour or two," said Sgt. John Hamilton, the Washoe County Search and Rescue Commander. "It's very important."
From above, the squad can get a bird's eye view as well.
"We fly low, and we can see things," said Kettering. "It can help you a lot to see a shadow. You may not see me but you can see that long shadow."
The pilots call in the coordinates of the missing person for the ground crews to move in. They'll also do flybys on cell towers and weather stations to look for damage.
The Air Squadron saves the Washoe County Sheriff's Department more than 1,200 volunteer hours per year and it saves taxpayers about $100,000 a year.
The team trains throughout the year to be ready for the real missions.
"Training's really important. If you want to stay safe, you got to train," said Murphy.