Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter back in action

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The Sonoma County sheriff’s helicopter is flying rescue missions again for the first time since the county’s longtime pilot resigned last summer, leaving the region without its most nimble aircraft and rescue resource for five months.

Last weekend, a reinstated crew flew its first rescue mission since August, when longtime pilot Paul Bradley resigned. The crew flew a reportedly drunken and cold man out of a remote homeless camp in Sonoma Valley Regional Park to a waiting ambulance Friday afternoon, sheriff’s Lt. Greg Miller said.

Bradley was back in the cockpit and is temporarily leading the crew, which has been flying non-rescue missions about once a week since November, Miller said. The Sheriff’s Office expects to hire a full-time pilot within a week or two and restore its air support program for regional North Coast law enforcement, fire agencies and search teams, he said.

“That is the plan,” Miller said.

Bradley quit in August but continued periodically flying the airship for training purposes and to deliver the helicopter to and from Los Angeles, where it underwent about two months of routine maintenance, Miller said. The program typically runs five days a week.

His resignation left the county without its most nimble rescue aircraft — a Bell 407 craft dubbed Henry 1 — during the last few weeks of summer, a busy time for the helicopter crew as residents and visitors spend more time outdoors.

Miller said he couldn’t say whether Bradley was in the running to return to the program. He said the Sheriff’s Office has multiple qualified candidates and will make a job offer soon.

The program costs the Sheriff’s Office nearly $1.6 million a year for a crew that includes a pilot, tactical officer and a paramedic. The crew flew about 350 hours during the fiscal year that ended in June 2015. The average was about 500 annual hours between 2000 and 2011.

At about 2 p.m. Friday, a 911 caller reported an unconscious man was in a tent at a homeless camp in the Sonoma Valley Regional Park, a 162-acre county park near Glen Ellen, emergency dispatchers said.

Firefighters found the man, who had regained consciousness, about 100 yards off a trail in or near Sonoma Creek, an area surrounded by steep terrain, officials said. The steep terrain and the needs of the patient led firefighters to request a helicopter fly the man out of the park, Sgt. Pete Quartarolo said.

Bradley flew Paramedic Don Ricci at the end of a 100-foot rope to the man, who was put on a rescue board and flown to a waiting ambulance from the Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Authority. Deputy Terry White, a tactical flight officer, also assisted.

Dispatchers said the man was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital in a condition that didn’t appear life-threatening.

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

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