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Helicopter takes to sky for training

Published December 22, 2006

[Times photo: Ron Thompson]
Guided by Citrus County sheriff's Deputy Mickey Dixon in the Sheriff's Office's new helicopter, sheriff's Sgt. Eddie Lane is hoisted from the ground. The Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit conducted training with the agency's new American Eurocopter on Thursday at the Inverness Airport.

INVERNESS - As he dangled 60 feet off the ground on a cable descending from the Citrus County sheriff's helicopter, Sgt. Eddie Lane could hardly contain himself.

When his feet hit the ground, he walked over to Sheriff Jeff Dawsy. "And he pays me to do this," he said with a huge grin to the crowd looking on.

The adrenaline rush came from simulated rescue training conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard at the Inverness airport Thursday. Members of the sheriff's emergency response and dive teams practiced operating the new helicopter's rescue hoist.

It's a scene all too familiar in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as people were plucked from flooded streets and homes in the hardest hit areas.

Scott Rady, a Coast Guard member based in Clearwater who was one of the first dispatched to New Orleans after the 2005 disaster, helped train the deputies.

"Most people saw it on TV during Katrina," said Rady, a 1989 Citrus High School graduate. "The Coast Guard aviation unit saved more than 12,000 lives."

Sheriff's Capt. Mike Richie said his agency is the only local law enforcement agency in the state that has a hoist on its helicopter. A storm in 1993 stranded a number of Citrus County residents for days, he said. Now they could be rescued.

"This helicopter is one of the latest with all the modern technology," he said, pointing to the sophisticated mapping software, weather forecasting and live-feed video camera.

Richie said the Sheriff's Office, despite its location in a small county with relatively minimal crime, has always been on the cutting edge of law enforcement technology.

He helped start the aviation unit 23 years ago when Charles Dean was sheriff. And in 1990, Citrus County and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office were the only ones in the state with thermal imaging technology on their helicopters.

Even though many residents have criticized the new $2.4-million American Eurocopter as an unwarranted taxpayer-funded purchase by the Sheriff's Office, Richie said it's "absolutely a very needed tool."

John Frank can be reached at or 860-7312.




[Last modified December 21, 2006, 20:07:04]

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