Rescue crew trains with chopper

The low-flying helicopter that swooped over the Valley this past week was a training exercise with a new rescue hoist for crews with the King County Sheriff's Office.

The Sheriff's Air Support Unit hovered off Mount Si to help officers train with a new cable hoist used to lift people during rescue operations. It's the first cable hoist the department has ever had, Sheriff's Department spokesman John Urquhart said.

Search and rescue teams were learning how to use the hoist, accompanied by the manufacturer.

"This is very exciting," said King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who petitioned the County Council to fund the new hoist that's now in service.

"We will be the only government that's certified to do this in the Northwest," Lambert said. "Prior to this, we had to wait for the military helicopter to come. We had to wait for hours."

During this winter's floods, Lambert learned that the sheriff's rescue unit wasn't able to perform safe, quick rescues with its own helicopter due to the lack of a cable hoist. Without a hoist, flood victims would have to try to board a hovering helicopter from their roof.

"They were improvising," Lambert said. "I'm not telling my citizens to get on the roof and jump in a helicopter."

The 10-day training period in North Bend took place on mountainsides, in forested areas and over water, wrapping up Wednesday, April 11. Rescue teams practiced lifts from different heights, including hovering at 80 feet.

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