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Tuesday 25 June 2013

Training with India 99

Tonight's training was a little unusual – armed only with an RV point the team descended on a stunning location that we’ve used for training before, but with no real idea about the session content other than a hi-viz jacket was a must!

It was warm and sunny as we moved to a football pitch sized grass area, surrounded by tall trees, and a few started to put two and two together as some team members carried out a sweep of the area to look for stones or other debris which could be thrown up and cause damage if, for instance, a helicopter should happen to land!

On countless searches, we’re accompanied by the eye in the sky of the Police helicopter, noisily hovering above. You’re conscious while you’re searching that you’re being watched too – they are often so low in the sky that you can see the team onboard clearly and the deafening noise from the engines and rotor blades makes it difficult to use our radios or even hear each other speak.

We’ve also all seen the TV footage of the helicopters chasing criminals using thermal imaging and other cameras, but never normally get the chance to meet the pilots and crew and find out more about what they see and do, their strengths and limitations, what that means for us on the ground, and how we can all work together more effectively.

We’d heard that the GMP helicopter (India 99) was a little busy chasing a stolen car around East Manchester, but it didn’t take long before we heard the clatter of an approaching aircraft and then spotted the helicopter above the surrounding trees. Landing, as we later found out, was a little tricky due to the height of the trees and meant that the pilot had to hover high above the centre of the grass area and drop vertically to the ground. Once the rotor blades’s stopped and the engines were off, we all moved over to meet the team.

It was fascinating to hear about their work, improve our understanding about what they do and how they help on our kind of searches. The helicopter is big, and can be adapted to carry a casualty in an emergency, with slight differences in the equipment onboard from county to county. So the Cheshire aircraft are slightly different to India 99. But most important of all is their ability to see, either directly or using cameras, and use very precise information to direct our teams on the ground to investigate something they have spotted.

Of course, once the talk was over, there was a certain child-like delight at the opportunity to clamber all over the helicopter and see the equipment inside for ourselves! We were able to chat with the pilot and crew and then finished off the evening with a quick search demonstration – seeing for ourselves how effective it can be when we’re in direct communication with the helicopter crew.

Thanks to Robbie and the other team members involved in organizing such an amazing training session for us – it’s certainly one we won’t forget and we’re looking forward to working with our flying friends in the future.

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