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New Medical Copter Device Can Zero In On Avalanche Victims

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The Flight For Life in Summit County (credit: CBS)

The Flight For Life in Summit County (credit: CBS)

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FRISCO, Colo. (CBS4) – A new tool could save lives in the Colorado’s mountains. It’s a medical helicopter with a sensor that can zero in on people who get trapped in avalanches.

The helicopter hasn’t been seen in Colorado yet, but it has been used overseas and in a few states around the Rocky Mountains.

With a lengthy process to go through with the Federal Aviation Administration, it has taken nearly 18 months for Colorado to get the device.

“In Colorado we lead the nation in avalanche fatalities every year. So we’re bringing in yet another tool in our program that we can use to help successfully find an avalanche victim and have a live recovery,” Flight for Life paramedic Kevin Kelble said.

From its position in the air the device scans for avalanche beacons. The use of such beacons is encouraged for backcountry skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, cross country skiers and snowmobilers. The antenna hangs down about 15 feet below the helicopter and can search up to 150 meters at a time for a beacon. It can usually pinpoint one to within 10 feet.

“So what would take you maybe dozens of minutes to cover by ground, we can cover in three to four minutes with a helicopter,” Kelble said.

Manuel Genswein helped invent the technology and was in Summit County on Tuesday training pilots.

“People have really been saved thanks to the very fast search effort which has been taken by the rescue crew,” Genswein said.

“In the terrain we’re surrounded by right here at our base in Summit County we can use it a lot, but it’s really a statewide resource,” Kelble said. “I’ve had one successful avalanche recovery in my whole career, so we’re trying to increase those odds with these tools so we can have a survivor of an avalanche and not a victim of an avalanche.”

Along with the rapid response and pinpointing of a beacon, the other major benefit to a search and rescue mission is keeping large crews out of an avalanche field and protecting them from even more harm.

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