H-PASO ROBLES

Mar 23, 2011 2:31 AM by Ariel Wesler

CHP Officers involved in water rescues this week share their experiences

For most of the year, they fly under the radar, but the California Highway Patrol's Air Rescue unit has been a lifeline in the sky for some folks along the Central Coast this week. The team out of Paso Robles performed two water rescues Monday.

We took to the skies with a CHP rescue team. These are the people that risk their lives to save others no one else can reach.

"It really only takes one event in the year to make our purpose worth it," said CHP Helicopter Pilot Diane Clark.

One of those events took place this week when two vehicles and their passengers became stranded in the fast moving water.

"The vehicle stalled in the center of the river," said Flight Paramedic Jon Ontiveros, involved the rescue.

Crews train every three months under various conditions to prepare, but rescuers say the toughest part is the unknown.

"There's always some snafoo that could happen and anticipating what someone else is going to do is probably the most nerve-racking," Clark said.

The CHP helicopter team is made up of a pilot and a Paramedic Flight Officer. The two communicate constantly to ensure a safe and successful rescue.

"We're in such close proximity, they cannot see the target, so we have to verbally guide them into position and maintain a hover," Ontiveros said.

One of the rescue involved a Ford Excursion, still floating in the river. Rescuers say it will remain in there until it can be safely removed. The CHP says in both incidents, drivers ignored road closure signs.

"They thought better of their own ability and of their vehicle ability and it just doesn't work against that kind of water," Clark said.

Officers say swift water and mountain rescues are more rare. They usually assist stranded hikers and respond to medical calls.

The CHP says it does not charge for rescues. The costs are covered by your taxes.

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