Private aerial rescue group takes off

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Jordan White explains features and safety protocols of the Bell 407 helicopter to members of the Flathead County Search and Rescue and Flathead Nordic Ski Patrol during a training session Nov. 17 at Kalispell City Airport. The helicopter is being used by Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources. A new rescue helicopter is on the way in the spring for the privately funded rescue organization.

A year after its inception, the FEAR organization is growing by leaps and bounds.

With one helicopter in use now and a brand-new rescue chopper on the way next year, the privately funded aerial rescue organization is developing quickly.

Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources was founded in 2011 by then-Flathead County Undersheriff Jordan White along with other like-minded individuals.

In March 2012, White resigned from his undersheriff position after being hired by Two Bear Management, owned by Whitefish venture capitalist Michael Goguen.

Goguen extended not only a job to White but also complete funding for FEAR.

That has run into the millions of dollars and includes the purchase of a new Bell 429 helicopter currently being built and scheduled to be delivered in the spring. The base price for the aircraft is roughly $5 million, not including the cost of rescue equipment.

White said the new helicopter is the culmination of everything the organization has been working toward thus far.

For the past few months, it has been using a red, white and blue Bell 407 helicopter belonging to Two Bear Management.

“The new helicopter will be equipped with a hoist,” White said. “Right now we’re limited in our search-and-rescue efforts of having to land the helicopter to be able to let people on and off.”

FAA regulations require that, to use a hoist, a helicopter must have twin engines so that if one engine goes out, the other can keep the aircraft aloft.

“When we add the hoist, along with adding a lot more training and a lot more equipment, we can literally pick somebody out of the forest in a place where we may not be able to land a helicopter for miles,” he said.

The organization has not finished sorting out all the equipment that will be installed in the aircraft, such as camera and mapping systems.

White went out of his way to share his gratitude to Goguen, without whom the organization  still might not be off the ground.

“To have met someone like Mike Goguen, with the unprecedented level of philanthropy he’s contributed to this program to make sure it not only happened but was a world-class program, is mind-blowing to me to imagine that it would ever get to this point,” White said.

“One year ago we hoped that maybe in five years we’d have raised half a million dollars to buy an aircraft, and within a few months I had quit my job in order to make this whole thing happen and then was able to begin searching for a brand new twin-engine rescue-class helicopter.”

In a prepared statement, Goguen talked about his involvement.

“When I first heard about the project from the sheriff’s office, it sounded exciting and much needed,” Goguen said. “Little did I know that within six months of my getting involved, this helicopter would be used to help these brave men and women save lives of folks in real danger.”

Using Two Bear’s helicopter, FEAR has flown about eight missions since August, according to White.

Those missions include picking up a hiker from Colorado who was lost and disoriented in the Swan Range, looking for a pair of missing hikers in Glacier Park and, most recently, helping pull out a duck hunter stuck in the mud in Upper Stillwater Lake near Whitefish.

Along with Jordan, the organization’s staff includes chief pilot Jason Johnson and contract pilot Jim Bob Pierce of Red Eagle Aviation.

The mission crew is made up of volunteer search-and-rescue personnel as well as Flathead County Sheriff’s Office deputies who have been trained to work in and manage the back of the helicopter.

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at jdavis@dailyinterlake.com.

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