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Firefighter describes critical role of hovercraft at Washington mudslide

Date: 2014-04-16
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Hovercraft are far more than Bubba’s Hover.  A Washington first responder describes how Neoteric rescue hovercraft were used at the Washington mudslide – and says search and rescue efforts would have been severely hampered without them. 

Snohomish County's Neoteric rescue hovercraft are enabling first responders to access areas other vehicles can't reach.

Snohomish County Fire District 19’s two Neoteric hovercraft were deployed in the March 22 Oso, Washington mudslide at the initial alarm and remained in operation throughout the rescue and recovery efforts. First responder Trent Nunemaker described the scene of one of the worst landslides in U.S. history, with 34 casualties to date: “The only way I can describe the debris field is that it looks as though a bomb has gone off. Try to imagine what would happen if a forest of trees hit a neighborhood at 100 miles per hour.”

Nunemaker explained the unequaled utility of hovercraft at the mudslide: “The slide area contains several hazardous environments – impenetrable debris, large clay islands and a debris field completely flooded by the backed-up Stillaguamish River. But our hovercraft can navigate through floating debris and logs, so we’re able to cross the flooded valley and access the debris field. Neoteric craft are able to quickly and safely access almost any environment.”

Besides debris and logs, first responders also faced treacherous conditions such as floodwaters contaminated with sewage, household chemicals, gasoline and propane, requiring both personnel and search dogs to be hosed down by hazardous materials crews when leaving the site. Since they fly 9 inches above the surface, Neoteric hovercraft provide added safety by keeping first responders out of contaminated mud and water.

An aerial view of the 20-foot wall of mud that suddenly collapsed on Saturday, tossing trees 50-60 feet tall over hundreds of yards and burying an entire community.

In addition to their search and rescue role at the mudslide, the hovercraft served additional functions. “We’re also using the hovercraft to transport personnel and rescue equipment to and from the debris field and other areas that are hard to access by any other means, Nunemaker elaborated. “They’re an excellent platform to rapidly reach our teams working out of smaller unpowered inflatables which have incorporated search dogs. During one day’s operations I used one of the hovercraft to keep track of all the watercraft operating in the debris field. The hovercraft was very well-suited for this; it allowed me to quickly reach crews in the field in the event of an emergency.”

The Washington mudslide is not the first time their hovercraft have played a vital role in Snohomish County. In May, 2013, the craft were deployed when a section of an Interstate 5 bridge collapsed, plunging vehicles and passengers into the Skagit River 60 miles north of Seattle.

One of Snohomish County's Neoteric rescue hovercraft soars over the square-mile debris field.

“Our hovercraft have become a critical tool in our rescue team’s operations, stated Nunemaker.  “Every second counts when it comes to water emergencies and the hovercraft allow us to access all our district’s waterways quickly and safely.”

The important role of Neoteric hovercraft in rescue operations like these throughout the world shows they serve a greater purpose than their widespread reputation as recreational vehicles. Hovercraft are critical rescue equipment that save lives and protect first responders in dire situations where no other vehicles are able to perform.

Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc.: 
Founded in 1960, Neoteric is the world’s original and most experienced light hovercraft manufacturer, with rescue, commercial, recreational, and military clientele in more than 50 nations. The Neoteric Hovertrek™ is the only hovercraft available with effective brakes, and is the lightest and quietest production hovercraft in the industry. Neoteric was selected as the designer/manufacturer of golf pro Bubba Watson’s hovercraft golf cart, resulting in the viral video Bubba’s Hover.

- People, Places & Things/ (via Neoteric, 12/12/14)




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