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From Above: A Look Inside MN’s Air Rescue Team

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(credit: CBS) Rachel Slavik
Rachel Slavik joined the WCCO team in October of 2010 and is thrill...
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A rescue by air can be the most challenging, but it can also be the quickest way to save someone when a minute means the difference between life and death.

Up until recently, Minnesota did not have a designated air rescue team. The state often relied on help from neighboring states to airlift people to safety in emergencies.

But a joint effort between the St. Paul Fire Department and the State Patrol is about to change that.

High above Afton State Park the beauty of the wooded terrain hid a training exercise on Friday afternoon.

A pair of hikers was injured and exhausted, unable find their way to safety. That was the scenario given to members of the Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team on their final day of training.

The team spent days learning to respond to emergencies in hard to reach areas, like forests or flooding.

“It’s a fact of life. People get hurt. People have accidents, and we just want to help those victims, those patients, get to the medical treatment faster,” said Lt. Matt Nelson of the Minnesota State Patrol.

The team has undergone 40 hours of training. State Patrol pilots learned to fly with their heads outside of a helicopter, because the team does not hoist rescue victims into the aircraft, rather keeps them suspended below the helicopter.

“It’s a brand new skill for these pilots. It’s a high level skill,” said Bob Cockell, a trainer for Air Rescue Systems.

St. Paul firefighters learned how to land, in any terrain, while managing the air rescue equipment and treating the victim on the ground.
It is an emergency response system that could shave significant time off a rescue.

Once the victim is located, an air rescue can take minutes to get to the victims. If a crew has to be on the ground, it can take hours.

“We can move 10, 20, 30 people in minutes with a helicopter, like this, taking them from a flood or bad spot to safety,” Cockell said.

The MART team isn’t sure how often they’ll be called to help, but they do expect several calls a year.

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