18 April, 2014

Neoteric hovercraft rescues hitchhiker thrown from bridge

Neoteric hovercraft have certainly been in the news recently when it comes to mud rescues. First, the Snohomish County hovercraft were invaluable in the search and rescue operations at the Oso, Washington mudslide – and this week Wylie Fire-Rescue in Texas performed an unusual mud rescue mission.

On Wednesday night at a rest stop in Dallas, Texas, 23-year-old Mario Otteson accepted a ride from five teenagers in a van. But when they reached the bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard, they stopped the van, dragged Otteson out, assaulted him and threw him over the side of the bridge.

Lake levels are low and Otteson landed in thick mud, from which he couldn’t escape. Fortunately, he had a cell phone and called 9-1-1. Dallas Police and Dallas Fire-Rescue attempted to rescue him, but finally called Wylie Fire-Rescue to bring their hovercraft to do the job.

Wylie’s Neoteric rescue craft had no problem navigating the mud and extricating Otteson. Luckily he suffered only minor scrapes, but the case was reported as an aggravated assault because of the possibility of severe injuries.

This is yet another example of the importance of hovercraft for law enforcement and rescue agencies. A boat or any other rescue vehicle cannot navigate through thick mud, but a hovercraft gives rescuers sure access to areas boats, and even helicopters, can’t reach. And the Neoteric craft, with its patented reverse thrust system, is the only hovercraft that gives them the ability to brake and back up. Sometimes backing up is the only way out – especially in mud rescues!

06 April, 2014

Hovercraft: Always in the news

There’s nothing like a hovercraft to bring you publicity. (Remember Bubba’s Hover!) It doesn’t matter whether you’re a golf pro, a business, a law enforcement agency, the military, or an outdoors enthusiast who knows the best way to enjoy nature – a hovercraft is going to attract the media.

Neoteric customer Gary Meyers and his unique recreational HoverTrek just finished a photo shoot for an upcoming feature in Arizona’s Coastal Life Magazine, "Fun Stuff for People to do in Lake Havasu City" …

From the left: Coastal Life photographer Eddo Early, reporter Kevin Baird, Gary Meyers - and Joey Meyers, the Official Hovercraft Training Centers HoverPup - are ready to hover …

As always, Joey the HoverPup was the star of the photo shoot, shown here geared up with his Mutt Muffs and sunglasses, on board his hovercraft with Gary and Pam Meyers …

01 April, 2014

On-the-scene report from Oso, Washington mudslide

Snohomish County Fire District 19’s two Neoteric hovercraft have been deployed in the rescue and recovery efforts at the Oso, Washington mudslide since the initial alarm and will remain active during the coming days as water levels lower and more area becomes available to search.

Those of us following the tragedy on the news cannot even begin to grasp the vast wasteland created by the mudslide. Trent Nunemaker, President of Fire District 19 and a primary first responder in the effort, has reported in from the scene, giving us a better understanding of the devastation created by one of the worst landslides in U.S. history.

In 2011, Trent Nunemaker (right) and Assistant Fire Chief Jeremy Swearengin (left) were trained to pilot Fire District 19’s Neoteric rescue hovercraft by Chris Fitzgerald (center) at Hovercraft Training Centers.
The number of confirmed fatalities has now reached 24, with 22 still missing. One of the rescuers on Trent’s team was personally affected, losing family members when his home was swept away by the slide. “Fortunately,” Trent says, “the amount of support we have received from the local community and from around the nation has been overwhelming.”

Trent describes the scene: “The only way I can describe the debris field is that it looks as though a bomb has gone off. Most first responders have seen the damage done when a car hits a tree at high speed. Try to imagine what would happen if a forest of trees hit a neighborhood at 100 mph. Everything from vehicles to homes have been completely destroyed and spread across a half mile debris field.

Rescuers have been hampered by rain all week and are contending with treacherous conditions such as sewage, household chemicals and gasoline and propane containers. When first responders and search dogs leave the site, they must be hosed down by hazardous materials crews. As an on-site spokesman said, “We're worried about dysentery, we're worried about tetanus, we're worried about contamination.”

Hovercraft give first responders added safety in rescue operations
by keeping them above contaminated mud and flood waters.
Trent goes on to explain the unequaled utility of rescue hovercraft in such situations: “The slide area contains several hazardous environments - impenetrable debris fields, large clay islands, and a debris field that is completely flooded by the backed-up Stillaguamish River. Initially the river was completely blocked by the slide, which caused a large portion of the debris field to flood. But our hovercraft can navigate through floating debris and logs, so we’re able to cross the flooded valley and access the debris field. Unfortunately, much of the debris contains nails and other sharp building hardware which tend to catch on the skirts of the hovercraft. We've overcome this by hovering low in the water and pushing such debris aside with the fiberglass body of the craft."

He adds, "These Neoteric craft are able to quickly and safely access almost any environment.

One of Fire District 19's Neoteric hovercraft carries rescuers safely
through shallow flood waters strewn with logs and debris.
Besides their search and rescue role, hovercraft serve additional functions in disaster scenarios like this one. Trent elaborates, “We're also using the hovercraft to transport and retrieve personnel and rescue equipment to and from the debris field and other areas that are hard to access by any other means. They’re an excellent platform to rapidly reach our teams working out of smaller unpowered inflatables which have incorporated search dogs.

He continues, “During one day’s search operations I was assigned Safety Officer for water operations and 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 job as it allowed me to quickly reach crews in the field to assist in the event of an emergency.”

A third Neoteric hovercraft at the scene, owned by Snohomish County Search and Rescue, transports drinking water.
"We're constantly coming up with new uses for our hovercraft," says Trent. "Recently we've worked on techniques to lower our craft by ropes down steep embankments. This has proven to be very successful and allows us to take advantage of more launch sites. Our hovercraft have become a critical tool in our swiftwater rescue team’s operations. 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 Washington mudslide is not the first time the hovercraft have been a critical tool for Snohomish County. In May of last year, the craft were called in when a portion of an Interstate 5 bridge collapsed, dropping vehicles and passengers into the Skagit River 60 miles north of Seattle.

The important role of hovercraft in search and rescue operations like these helps us understand that these unusual craft have a far greater purpose than simply serving as recreational vehicles or golf carts. Hovercraft are critical rescue equipment that, time and time again, save lives and protect first responders in dire situations where no other vehicles can perform.

27 March, 2014

Neoteric Hovercraft aid Washington mudslide search & rescue efforts

Our thoughts are with the people of Oso, Washington, and with the first responders assisting them after the massive mudslide that devastated the community on Saturday. Thankfully, Snohomish County Fire District’s two Neoteric rescue hovercraft are on the scene to help first responders navigate the dismal search conditions.

The square-mile debris field, 30-40 feet deep in places and contaminated with bacteria and chemicals, has been described as “quicksand-like muck, rain-slickened mud and ice”, making it difficult to navigate on foot and near impossible to bring in heavy equipment. When the 20-foot wall of mud collapsed, trees that were 50-60 feet tall were tossed like toothpicks and thrown hundreds of yards.

Even rescuers are having to be rescued: firefighters who waded into the mud became stuck up to their armpits and had to be pulled out by ropes. As Senator Patty Murray stated, “People are putting their own lives at risk in the search and rescue.

Fortunately, the hovercraft are able to access areas no other vehicle can reach – and they’re keeping the first responders above the danger rather than mired within it.

(SeattlePI/Joshua Trujillo)

The death toll has now reached 24, and scores of victims are still missing. But hopes for finding survivors have faded and the mission is now considered a recovery operation rather than a rescue. “The situation is very grim,” said Chief Travis Hots of Snohomish County Fire District 21, “The mud is so compressed in houses that it’s like concrete.”

(Associated Press/Rick Wilking)

Aerial view of mudslide. Associate Press/Ted S. Warren)
In addition to the hovercraft, helicopters, search dogs, sonar and technical teams are being used to search for victims. And yesterday, two Washington National Guard Blackhawk helicopters arrived to assist. But Bill Quistorf, chief pilot for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, said “The Blackhawks’ sole mission is body removal.”

Even though the news reports that it would be a miracle to find survivors at this point, we at Neoteric send our hopes that just such a miracle will occur – regardless of the rescue vehicle that performs it.