By Bijan Razzaghi
Hurricane Harvey has dealt a serious blow to Southeastern Texas and has left much of Houston and Galveston flooded with nearly 280,000 people out of power. In the wake of this crisis the US Air Force and Coast Guard have taken the lead in conducting airborne search and rescue operations for those stranded inside flooded areas. Much like Katrina in 2005 US Air Force Para Rescue men and Coast Guard Rescue swimmers are responsible for making sure flood victims are airlifted out of harm’s way. Texas is home to three Coast Guard air stations while the US Air Force can deploy its HH-60G Pave Hawks from across the country.
The US Air Force is actively using the HH-60G Pave Hawk a Search and Rescue variant of the US Army’s UH-60 Blackhawk to rescue individual’s trapped in the flood zones. The HH-60G offers a Unique capability as it uses an INS/GPS Doppler navigation system which allows the helicopter to operate in zero visibility conditions, with the intense rain this is particularly useful. FLIR (forward looking infra red) can also greatly assist the aircraft in being able to visually identify obstacles. With these capabilities the HH-60G is ideal for operating in adverse weather conditions such as those produced by Harvey. In flight refueling probes makes the Pave Hawks range nearly unlimited. In the case that the pilot has to crash land the aircraft the HH-60Gs structure is designed to protect the cabin and crew from death or serious injury in case of a hard landing. US Air Force has 12 active Rescue Squadrons of HH-60s ready at any given time.
The Coast Guard operates the HH-65 Dauphin and HH-60 Jayhawk the latter being a naval variant of the Army’s Blackhawk. The HH-60 is a rapid deployment rescue option for the Coast Guard being able to deploy from a coast guard air station at a moment’s notice to conduct a rescue operation. The HH-60J does not have the same navigational aids that the Air Forces HH-60G has, yet can be used as a local rescue option to provide assistance to stranded individuals. The HH-65 Dauphin can also conduct search and rescue operations being the smallest of the three helicopters with the shortest range.
The combined Search and Rescue capabilities of the Coast Guard and Air Force are vital for conducting successful Search in Rescue operations during disasters such as Harvey. The local capabilities of the Coast guard allow for rapid reaction and response while the Air Force can move into the disaster zone to and offer navigational assistance in zero visibility situations.