MCSO gearing up for busy season of rescue flights

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This helicopter is one of the most important tools the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) This helicopter is one of the most important tools the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

With the warm weather rolling in, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit wants to warn people to stay safe as they head outdoors.

Every year the aviation division responds to over 300 rescues and more than 2,000 calls for service. These include mountain rescues, missing hikers, lost Salt River tubers and suspect searches.

During a news conference Friday morning, MCSO Sgt. Joaquin Enriquez said the men and women of the MCSO’s aviation team regularly put their own lives on the line in the name of public safety.

[WATCH: Entire news conference]

“We haven’t even reached triple digits and the Aviation Division, as well as Lake Patrols, have been involved in several rescues already,” he said.

MCSO wants people to remember that Mother Nature is in charge, so don't forget to pack plenty of water and a map, and wear proper footwear and attire. Bright clothing will make it easier for rescuers to find you if they have to.

When hiking, always tell someone where you're going and when you expect to return. Also, don't veer off the hiking trail or hike alone.

The most recent rescue the MCSO team took part in happened Sunday afternoon and involved two lost hikers in the Rivas Falls area, about 8 miles from the trailhead.

The hikers were located at the top of the cliff in “a remote area of the Supertitions,” according to Sgt. Dave Ayers. A Lake Patrol deputy had to hike down to where the women were and take them back up to where the chopper was waiting.

Because of the ruggedness of the terrain, the pilot had to do what’s called a hover landing, which is exactly what it sounds like.

“In this particular one, I was able to get one skid on the ground and then hover the other side,” Deputy Rich Dickner, the pilot on that rescue, explained. “That particular area is not very hospitable for landing.”

He said such landings are not uncommon.

“The terrain we work at, though, the environment we work in, it happens all the time,” Dickner continued. We try to get flat pitch because it’s safer, but it doesn’t always happen that way.”

When landing isn’t an option, crews perform a long-line rescue. The hiker is strapped into a harness and then hoisted into the air and flown to safety.

That’s how an Ohio woman was plucked off Camelback Mountain shortly after getting engaged during a hike Thursday afternoon. Her new fiance was air-lifted down a short time later. MCSO was not involved in that dual rescue.

[READ and WATCH: Two hikers rescued off Camelback Mountain after marriage proposal]

A key thing to remember is that daylight is your best friend if you find yourself stranded on one of the Valley’s many hiking trails. Once the sun goes down, the danger to everyone increases exponentially.

If you’re in trouble, don’t wait to call for help.

“If I could say anything, it’s call earlier than later,” Dickner said. “When you have a feeling you’re lost, or gonna have a problem, or you’re injured or something, call us early …. It’s gonna work out better for everybody.”

If it is dark, Dickner said you should hold up a light when you hear the chopper – even it’s just your cell phone – because the crew can see that light from about 5 miles away.

“That’s the best way to find somebody out there,” he explained.

Enriquez closed out by saying that MCSO has no interest in lecturing or chastising people who get lost on the trails. From dispatchers to rescuers in the field, the one shared goal is to make sure everybody gets home safe.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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