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Elite special forces trained on Susquehanna today

Updated: Friday, October 25 2013, 05:48 PM CDT
Reported by: Jesse Knutson

Susquehanna Township -- An elite rescue team flew Blackhawk helicopters over the Susquehanna River and practiced rescuing stranded boaters today in order to prepare for a situation they hope never happens.

The Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, or “PA-HART”, is a rescue team formed in 2006 that is only called into action in dire situations. “It’s an all-hazards response team,” Ryan Walt, a strike team leader, said.

“We’re not only doing swift water rescue, we’re doing building rescues, wilderness areas search and rescue.” PA-HART is composed of members of the PA National Guard, Life Lion pilots, members of the PA Fish and Boat Commission, and many other highly trained professionals.

PA-HART uses UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters during their rescue missions.  “It’s a robust airframe where you can fly in all types of weather, whether it be a snow storm, rain, wind,” Walt said, and today, the helicopters and crews had to brave cold temperatures and wind, resulting in a more accurate training experience.

This training simulated a flash flood where boaters were stuck on rocks and small islands in the Susquehanna River. PA-HART crews flew in, lowered a rescue technician from the helicopter, and brought the stranded boaters to safety.

Members of the team say this training is important so they’re ready for any calls that come in.

“I think the important thing is to be ready, and that’s what this training is about.” George Giles, a PA-Hart helicopter pilot and member of the PA National Guard, said. “You never really know when it’s going to happen.”

The PA-HART team has been put on stand-by for natural disasters across the country, like Hurricane Sandy and the recent flooding in Colorado. While they haven’t been put into action yet, they continue training for when someone needs their help.

In Friday's training, PA-HART focused on improving communication between crews. Giles believes the day was a success. “I thought it went phenomenally today. Everything from the communication to the actual execution of the mission, everything has worked out pretty flawlessly.”

While members of PA-HART are ready to save you when you’re in need, they encourage everyone to be safe and prepared to avoid finding yourself in a life-threatening situation.

“Heed early warning signs of flash flooding and evacuation protocols,” Michael Kurtz, a strike team leader for PA-HART, said. “And most important, don’t drive across flooded roadways.”

PA-HART trains for different situations across the state twice a month, racking up nearly 100 hours of training each year, but so far, they have not had to respond to a disaster. Elite special forces trained on Susquehanna today


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