KGUN 9 On Your SideNewsLocal News


Life on the line with the PCSD helicopter crew

Sheriff’s Helicopter lifts kayaker to safety
Posted at 10:22 PM, Jul 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 12:24:50-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — As high water surged this weekend, some people ignored the danger and tried to play in the water. Some of them had to be rescued.

The Rillito was still running late Monday afternoon but with just a fraction of the force it had Sunday. A kayaker tried his luck in the rushing water. His luck seemed to run out until the Sheriff’s helicopter arrived.

RELATED - PHOTOS: Monsoon 2021

The helicopter was already in the air for another mission so it was able to be over the wash quickly. After about 20 years of flying rescues, first for Border Patrol and now for the Pima Sheriff’s Department, Pilot Milt Kennedy knew almost by instinct how to get in position to drop that life-saving line.

“It just comes with experience. I mean, for somebody that's just starting out, that would have been very challenging but over the years after multiple hovers and 1000s of hours it's second nature.”

The kayaker got separated from his boat. He was on a patch of land, but still separated from safe refuge on shore---and Kennedy could tell the man was losing the energy to save himself.

“Once you start fearing for your life and maybe even some little bit of panic sets and then you're going to expend more energy, which further exhaust to and once, once you get to a safe area, like he was holding on and maybe felt safe and that adrenaline dump releases and then just all your expenditures, come to the forefront and they're just tired.”

Crew Chief Tom Price was operating the hoist, co-ordinating moves with the pilot and watching for dangers like power lines. Years of flying together help each man know what the other needs---almost without words.

Price says, “It’s been a whole bunch of years now so we've refined our cadence to each other. We know if he's doing this and he says this, I'm doing it, I'm reacting with something different.”

Milt Kennedy says with open space over the wash and fairly calm weather this was a less challenging rescue than some others he’s done.

In July 2017, Kennedy was at the controls and Tom Price was on board for a tricky rescue close to the canyon walls and swirling waters of Tanque Verde Falls. The helicopter crew rescued a man and a four year old child, then went on to lift 15 others to safety.

The crew says sometimes the people they rescue say they made a mistake they will never make again but usually they just say, thanks.

Price says, “I did search and rescue for many many years it was one of the most rewarding type of experiences because it's in a law enforcement role especially in this day and age and stuff it's very rewarding to make these sort of rescue operations.”

What happened on the Rillito Sunday was risky for the rescue crews as well as the person being rescued. So, if you’re taking a chance in monsoon water you’re not just risking your life, you’re risking the lives of the people coming to save you.