AMARILLO - It's not often that a person gets stranded in a panhandle lake or inside Palo Duro Canyon, but when it does happen it takes a "tactical flight officer" to save the day, and there are only four with that title in Amarillo.
Long line rescues from a helicopter are missions fortunately not too common in the panhandle. "They use that to rescue people from waters, Palo Duro Canyon, people that are stranded," Trooper Chris Ray with the Department of Public Safety said. The DPS owned helicopter spent Monday in the sky over Randall County as DPS officers and one Amarillo Police officer practiced rescues from above.
"Right now I'm the only one with APD that's trained to do that," APD tactical flight officer Rodney Clark said.
Clark is often the man executing rescues from the chopper. NewsChannel 10 attached a camera to him as he went up with the pilot, and practiced getting a weight unharmed from point A to point B. "The tactical flight officer is in the back doing the deployment of the rescue rope, actually directing the pilot," Clark said. "That's where you have to practice your communication skills between your TFO and your pilot because the pilot can't see where that ring is at."
This aircraft isn't only used for rescue missions though. When DPS purchased it back in 2008, it was the most technically advanced in the nation. Though technology has advanced since then... "There is more advanced aircraft out there, but not much more advanced," Clark said.
"This is still state of the art." It still does the job, or shall we say, jobs. "We're able to do surveillance. Rescue. It's able to take aerial photography. It has video. It provides so much more. We can even transport injured if we need to," Ray said.
The closest chopper like that one is in Lubbock and flight officers say they both stay quite busy.