Hovercraft made by an Indiana company have been used in rescue and recovery efforts in the state of Washington following last month's deadly mudslide there. Neoteric Hovercraft is located in Terre Haute. The company says since the hovercraft fly nine inches above the surface, they keep first responders out of contaminated mud and water. Hovercraft, which travel just above land or water on a cushion of air, can also navigate through floating debris and logs, cross a flooded valley, and get to places a boat or helicopter can't reach.
[Photo/provided: One of Snohomish County's Neoteric rescue hovercraft travels over the square-mile debris field.]
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Terre Haute, Ind. -- 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 describes 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 explains 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.
In addition to their search and rescue role at the mudslide, the hovercraft served additional functions. Nunemaker elaborates, "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. 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.
Nunemaker states, “Our hovercraft have become a critical tool in our 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 important role of Neoteric hovercraft in rescue operations like these throughout the world shows they serve a greater purpose than their widespread reputation as Bubba's Hover or 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. [News Release]