Davis County’s hovercraft especially helpful in rescues involving ice, mudflats

Posted at 5:54 PM, Apr 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-12 19:54:36-04

DAVIS COUNTY, Utah – If you’re stranded on ice or stuck on a mudflat, it’s not easy for rescue crews to get to you--unless they have a hovercraft.

FOX 13 News recently took a spin with Davis County Search and Rescue on that hovercraft, which rescuers said is a tool that can be very helpful in certain situations.

Hovercraft pilot Jared Howes said the vehicle is a lot of fun to drive, and Davis County Search and Rescue Commander Erik Bornemeier said the vehicle has some unique advantages.

“It’s built like a plane, light, fast, maneuverable, Bornemeier said.

Howes said those attributes make piloting the craft a unique challenge.

“It handles like nothing I’ve ever operated before,” he said.

The vehicle seats six, weighs 800 pounds and costs about $30,000. Crews said they use the hovercraft in rescues three or four times each year.

“If someone had fallen through the ice, we could actually just fly right over to them and pull them out of the water without having to break the ice,” Howes said.

A lot of the county is covered by the Great Salt Lake, and when the water is low, that leaves miles of mudflats boats can’t reach. Bornemeier said having the hovercraft helps respond to those situations.

“It’s like having another tool in the tool belt,” he said.

The hovercraft makes use of an aircraft engine and directs some of the air downward, which creates a cushion of air for the craft to ride on. Scoops at the back allow the pilot to steer—which isn’t always as simple as turning a car.

“You’ll turn, and it’ll start to react, and you''ll be going straight and you'll turn and you’ll actually keep going straight for a few seconds before you actually start to kind of go the other way,” Howes said.

Three pilots on the team train at least one Thursday each month in order to be ready to respond if needed, and a speedy response is often critical.

“In freezing cold water, you don’t have a whole lot of time,” Howes said.

But caution is just as important as speed.

“You have to get there in time, but you have to get there in time safely,” Bornemeier said.

The craft can be launched in minutes, and it can travel across water at speeds greater than 40 mph. The team has had the hovercraft for about three years, and they said the addition has saved lives.