Hovercraft to ease river rescue operations
The latest ship in the Pittsburgh fleet of ice rescue crafts looked like it was plucked from the set of a science fiction movie and set loose on an abandoned baseball field in Highland Park.
The hovercraft, piloted by Pittsburgh police Officer Sam Muoio, lifts about a foot off the ground by pushing air into fabric pockets beneath it, sending up a cloud of snow as it speeds over the weedy lot in its inaugural trip in Pittsburgh last week.
Muoio, an airplane pilot and one of the officers assigned to River Rescue, discovered the craft doesn't care for quick turns or high weeds.
“There's no brakes,” Muoio said. “It doesn't stop like a car, and it doesn't turn like a boat. It's like flying an airplane 12 inches off the ground.”
The city used a Department of Homeland Security grant to cover 75 percent of the $93,425 cost for the Hoverguard 1000 from a Michigan company, said Ray DeMichiei, deputy director of the Department of Emergency Management.
“We always knew we had an issue with ice and shallows,” DeMichiei said. “It's something everybody in the region has identified as something we want to have. There's a lot of places this will be used.”
River Rescue struggled to find a woman in shallow water during the August 2011 flood of Washington Boulevard that killed four people, he said.
“River Rescue, through no fault of their own, couldn't get in close to the riverbank because the boat would bottom out,” DeMichiei said. “You couldn't get the boats we have close to the shoreline.”
The benefit of the hovercraft will be in shallow water rescues, such as Chartiers Creek and near Washington's Landing, Muoio said.
“It's designed for ice operations and marsh lands,” he said. “If someone needs to be extricated, and we can't get a helicopter or a Med-Evac in there, we can get the hovercraft in there.”
Ross County, Ohio, Sheriff George Lavender said he has used his department's hovercraft about eight or nine times in the eight years the department has had it.
“They are very good to get into places,” he said. “It could not be any better for ice, and it goes across mud very well.”
He said it doesn't perform over rough water, but he considers it a good investment “if you have the money.”
“It has served us well, but you have to know where to use it,” Lavender said.
The hovercraft will augment River Rescue's airboat for ice rescues, DeMichiei said.
“This is a lot more flexible,” he said. “It can do a lot more than the airboat.”
In its seven years of service, Muoio said, he can remember police and paramedics using the airboat once to rescue a woman who jumped from a bridge into the icy river. With speed, the boat can get up and glide over ice that's 2 inches thick, he said. But there are risks to rescuing someone with the boat. The last time the airboat was used in service was Feb. 21 when a barge struck the Hot Metal Bridge, said city public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler.
“You're pushing the ice, and you can pinch that person in between two pieces of ice and cause more damage,” Muoio said. “And the pressure can cause a wake.”
Frigid temperatures this winter caused the rivers to ice over, giving the crew chances to train with the boat.
“We use cans as simulated people to show them to keep the speed down,” Muoio said. “There is a need for it. The Allegheny freezes.”
Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Animal welfare groups see opportunities in dialogue about Vick signing
- Board members bring business attitude to nonprofit August Wilson
- Man critical after being shot in Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood
- W.Pa. to observe International Overdose Awareness Day
- Penn Hills fire displaces 10
- Port Authority’s plan for car-free communities slow to bear fruit
- Shaler man charged with homicide, abuse of corpse in McKeesport woman’s death
- Newsmaker: Matthew Opdyke
- Solarize Allegheny powers up with more communities
- 3 Brentwood council members submit resignation letters
- Civil War vet gets 21-gun salute