This week an emergency services helicopter with a five-man crew from the Collier County sheriff’s division headed out on a mission to rescue a man in Southern Florida’s Big Cypress National Preserve.
Utilizing location information gleaned from the stranded man’s cell phone, the officers were able to pinpoint his location accurately. It was apparent the hiker, identified as Aaron Rys, 33, wasn’t injured. Exercising a flyover, the pilot was able to see the man and with the help of dispatch were able to navigate him to a clearing where the helicopter could land safely.
Although they were anticipating a routine rescue, the dark and foggy conditions impacted the helicopter pilot’s visibility and the crew in the aircraft lost communications. Ground crews searching on foot for the man were dealing with obstacles of their own, namely the venomous water moccasins that populate the preserve and terrain that was proving to be a difficult to traverse.
Theses conditions were hampering the efforts of the crews and as the aircraft started to grow low on fuel, they were forced to leave the man until the following day.
According to Cpl. Dennis DeRienzo of the CCSO and the rescue helicopter pilot involved in the attempt, the crew was less than happy to have to leave the man behind. He said, “It was the worst feeling.” Cpl. DeRienzo stated that the decision was based on weighing their limitations against the situation, and the limitations won out.
There were numerous elements to consider, for example, if the helicopter returned to refuel, they could be further limited by the worsening fog decreasing safe visibility an if the ground crew were to have pressed on, they could have been attacked by venomous snakes and would need a helicopter rescue themselves.
The crew then had to tell Mr. Rys that he would have to sit tight until daylight. He was instructed to power down his cell and call at sunrise.
It was reported that Ryan, of Cape Coral, made a call to the Sheriff’s office the following morning shortly after 6 am. Mr. Rys told the emergency services dispatcher that, “I’m hearing these really low growls around me, and they have me kind of concerned.”
He then relayed details as to his location but was once again told to move to a clearing in the canopy so that the hoist could be lowered without being encumbered buy tree limbs. The man moved to a more open space and after 8 am, just as the fog was lifting the crew deployed once again to retrieve him.
The five-man crew consisting of Cpl. DeRienzo as the pilot of the helicopter once more and Cpl. Edward Henderson, co-pilot, alongside Cpls. Aaron App, Josh White, and Ruben Gonzalez lowered the hoist, retrieved the man and lifted him into the helicopter as the hoist was returned. According to Cpl. De Rienzo these type rescues are a team effort.
Cpl. Josh White rode the hoist to the ground to retrieve Mr. Rys and said that his attempt to hook the harness was increasing in difficulty because the brush was so thick and he had trouble maneuvering in it, he said, “ I could barely move.” Despite that fact, he was able to hook the hoist onto Mr, Rys. He noted that Mr. Rys seemed somewhat shocked about was able to respond to instruction during the rescue attempt.safely retrieve him. The crew was said to have celebrated their successful mission upon return to their base with high fives all around.
The emergency services helicopter used in the rescue is a recent addition to the CCSO. The Vietnam era Huey helicopter flew over 400 hours during the war with the 174th Assault Helicopter Company.