Longtime Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter pilot Paul Bradley resigning
Sonoma County sheriff’s veteran helicopter pilot Paul Bradley, who has flown hundreds of missions over the North Coast, rescuing the injured or imperiled and aiding deputies chasing suspects on the ground, is leaving his post this month for a new job in Redding.
Bradley’s departure, after 13 years as a county pilot, has set in motion a rapid search for his replacement. It has also prompted the county to ground the region’s most nimble rescue aircraft — a Bell 407 craft dubbed Henry 1 — during the last few weeks of summer, when it is set undergo a period of routine repairs and maintenance.
Sonoma County Sheriff’s Capt. Clint Shubel said that the county’s network of firefighters, a trained volunteer search and rescue force as well as regional helicopters flown by the CHP and Coast Guard will continue to serve the region while the county hunts for a new pilot.
“We’re trying to recruit as quickly as possible so we can get a replacement,” Shubel said. “We wish him the best of luck. He’s done so much for the community with all the rescues he’s performed.”
Under Bradley’s primary command, Henry 1 flew about 350 hours during the last fiscal year, which ended in June. Between 2000 and 2011, the crew, including a tactical officer and paramedic, flew an average of 500 hours each year.
In his tenure, Bradley has run hundreds of missions, lowering deputies to capsized boats in the ocean, hovering perilously close to cliffs and coastal mountains while aiding injured hikers and cyclists, and providing critical air support during fast-paced pursuits of suspects on the ground.
Bradley piloted a daring nighttime 2013 rescue of nine emergency responders stranded by high tide on ocean cliffs in Del Norte County, which brought him and his team awards and honors from AAA and the Red Cross. As part of the award, the AAA contributed $10,000 to the nonprofit group Friends of Henry 1 that is raising funds to help the Sheriff’s Office buy a new helicopter.
In 2012, Bradley lowered a deputy down to a overturned boat in the turbulent waters of Tomales Bay where two children and three adults were clinging to the hull. In nine minutes he and the deputy flew them, one-by-one, safely to shore. When authorities realized two additional children were trapped inside the boat, Bradley lowered the deputy back onto the boat where she and another trained diver waited with the trapped children until a rescue vessel arrived. Both children were saved.
In February, the veteran pilot dropped a deputy into a field where a suspected car thief had fled, enabling the deputy to reach the area quickly and apprehend the man.
Bradley, reached by phone this week, declined to discuss his reasons for resigning. He said he was reluctant to leave the Sheriff’s Office but felt it was “time to move on.”
In his new role next week with Redding Air Service he will have greater responsibilities and will eventually oversee other pilots. The 58-year-old company has a team of 11 pilots and six helicopters. The bulk of its work is firefighting and powerline patrols.
“The (Sonoma County) helicopter program, its crew and the county residents have always been my priority,” Bradley said. “I’ve never been one to give up on my duties and responsibilities, so it is with a heavy heart that I leave.”