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Longtime Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter pilot Paul Bradley resigning

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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.”

On Thursday, Redding Air Service operations director Gordy Cox said five of the company’s six helicopters were battling wildfires, including one pilot working on the Jerusalem fire in Lake County and another pilot who had flown to Washington State to assist firefighters there.

Bradley said one of his last missions for Sonoma County will be to fly Henry 1 south to Los Angeles where the helicopter will undergo maintenance.

Sgt. Pete Quartarolo, who runs the helicopter unit, said that Bradley has a rare set of skills that will be hard to replace. He called out his experience flying at night and expertise with “long-line rescues,” which involves dangling a deputy at the end of a 100-to-200 foot rope for rescue missions.

“The trouble for us will be finding someone with all of those skill sets and is good at all of them,” Quartarolo said. “Especially the long-line rescue, that’s a pretty rare skill in the aviation community.”

Henry 1 is generally in operation five days per week but is grounded at various times throughout the year for essential and preventative maintenance, an important routine to ensure the 1996 model is fit to fly, said Shubel.

Bradley started working part-time as a pilot for the Sheriff’s Office in April 2002 and was brought on full-time as the sole pilot in March 2008.

His last official day as a full-time employee was Wednesday, however he will continue working as a contract employee to fill in for several weeks.

Bradley’s base pay in 2014 was $93,670. Including overtime and the cashout of vacation and other leave, he earned $164,577 last year, according to county payroll records.

He said will continue living part-time in Santa Rosa with his fiancée.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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