LCSO helicopter unit is ready for any emergency

When moments count, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office takes flight. A full-time helicopter unit is on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

September 2014 was a tense moment for a mother. She called 911 after getting a call from her husband out on the water that his boat was going down.

The helicopter crew with the LCSO located the party of seven bobbing in the water, flipped over.

Nearly five years later, Deirdre Catlin counts her blessings.

Her husband, Jaren, and their two kids came back to her alive.

“We’re thankful they were able to spot us and get help for us because you don’t realize how vast and big it is in the Gulf of Mexico until you’re out there and you can’t see land and you can’t see other boats,” Jaren Catlin said. “Thankful that the helicopters above can see a bigger distance and spot you.”

But the helicopter crew does not only provide emergency services for missing boats. Their green and white helicopters are dispatched deputies anytime on the ground need eyes in the sky.

“Our number one partner in the Sheriff’s Office is the road patrol division,” said Lt. Steve Humfleet, chief pilot of the LCSO aviation unit, “the uniform officer, the uniform deputy that’s on the street that is doing all the work.”

“Are helicopters good for surveillance?” said Rich Kolko, WINK News safety and security specialists.

“Helicopter is because of technology,” Lt. Humfleet said. “Its got a mapping system and a camera system, its incredible. We go to 3000 feet and not only see the bad guy but tell us what the cross streets are, the house we are looking at, tax collector information, a wealth of information. But its that camera system that allows us to do that.”

But, do not forget about fighting crime. During a suspect takedown from last year, Lee County deputies worked with the K-9 team to apprehend a fugitive in the woods. Infrared cameras helped guide the crew on the ground in the darkness.

Lt. Humfleet said the LCSO team is the only 24/7 unit between Tampa and Miami. It is constantly being called hundreds of times a year as a resource to authorities, thereby keeping you safe.

They assist the FBI, DEA and other federal, state and local agencies. Even fire departments, on the day it took Kolko up in the air, they spotted a brush fire on Pine Island and flew directly there. The aviation unit now trains with the firefighters to help during brush fire season.

“Real-time, I can go out and see where the fire is moving,” said Lieutenant Jay Cabral, North Fort Myers Fire District. “I can’t see where my crews are if there’s a fire. Sometimes they are in the woods; they can’t see what is going on, they might see a fast moving flame front moving upon them. A helicopter can see that and warn them.”

It is something the sheriff said he plans to keep around.

“These helicopters go anywhere in the county, we can go and we do go all the time,” said Carmine Marceno, LCSO sheriff. “We go into the adjoining counties, Sanibel Island, Ft. Myers Police. Anyone on our southwest region that needs assistance, these helicopters are en route, flying in minutes and we’re going to be there to help our fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement.

Reporter:Rich Kolko
Writer:Michael Mora
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