Sunday, May 22, 2022 |
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LIHU‘E — The pilot who may have the distinction of being one of the last sugar crop-dusters on Kaua‘i has returned to the island, and immediately was put to work doing search-and-rescue work for the county.
Jim Hobbs, who grew up in Hawai‘i and learned to fly on Maui, was last month in the right place at the right time when fellow pilot Ken D’Attilio of Inter-Island Helicopters was off-island and the county needed some rescue work done.
Hobbs said he brought equipment to the island in support of his utility-work business, Airborne Aviation, introduced himself to Kaua‘i Fire Department Chief Robert Westerman, and said he is available to do rescue work.
He was put to work almost immediately, making an extraction of a camper who apparently fell some 100 feet off a cliff in Kalalau Valley in early January.
That was one of several calls Hobbs has answered for KFD, he said.
“I wanted to make myself available to (KFD) for the community, and then we got kinda busy,” he said.
Hobbs has flown rescue helicopters in support of the Maui Fire Department, and done work on Kaua‘i for The Nature Conservancy and in support of the Westside sugar industry when it was still functioning, he said.
He has also flown in Alaska, and has experience on a variety of sizes of helicopters, he said. It is utility work he enjoys most, Hobbs said.
Hobbs started his own company, and said “you can’t make a living doing search-and-rescue work.”
He said he read The Garden Island article about a temporary lack of rescue pilots and equipment, so offered his services to KFD.
Regarding his recent journey into Kalalau, he said the female who fell around 100 feet off a cliff near Kalalau Beach is lucky to be alive.
“To me it’s a miracle she lived,” said Hobbs, describing how he and three rescue specialists from the KFD Lihu‘e station circled the accident scene, evaluated the situation and determined a course of action.
There were people attending to the woman, identified only as Olivia, and the rescue specialists were dropped in, used a Stokes litter to “package her up,” after which she was lifted out of the valley, taken to Princeville Airport where an American Medical Response ambulance was waiting, then taken to Wilcox Memorial Hospital for treatment, said Hobbs.
Because her full name is still not known, her current condition is also unknown.
Hobbs flies a Hughes 500D that is silver with maroon and orange stripes, he said.
D’Attilio, of Inter-Island Helicopters out of Port Allen Airport (Burns Field), earlier this month brought a new helicopter to the island, he said, and was told by Westerman to let KFD know when he was again available.
D’Attilio said earlier he has never had a written contract to do search, rescue and firefighting work for the county, yet has done so for several years.
The current KFD agreement is “on call as needed,” Westerman said.
“KFD is satisfied with all the carriers (we) have worked with,” said Westerman, speaking mainly of Inter-Island, Airborne and Jack Harter Helicopters.
Asked about any priority system for calling companies regarding rescue and firefighting work, Westerman said the one in existence “is based on mission then availability with the proper equipment, and then past service.
“Historically Inter-Island was called because of our long history of working together, having flown with their pilots, knowledge of our landing areas, familiarity of our operations, aircraft type not only for familiarity, but our equipment is purchased and designed to be used with the MD500 series aircraft,” said Westerman.
“We would and do use other providers as needed based on mission needs, equipment availability, and historical flights,” he said.
The county is in the process of leasing its own helicopter for rescue and other operations, but would still need to contract a pilot and maintenance.
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