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Hovercraft Soon to be Added to Central Indiana’s Search and Rescue Arsenal

WISH TV 8, Indianapolis, IN
November, 2007
By Eric Halvorson

INDIANAPOLIS - Central Indiana is about to get an amazing new weapon for its search and rescue arsenal. 24-Hour News 8 spent the day in Terre Haute learning more about the new hovercraft coming to town.

Indianapolis Fire Department Hovercraft demonstration

The concept surprises people. They ask, why does central Indiana need one of these? Once you've seen one in action, you begin to understand.

Chris Fitzgerald often has the Wabash River to himself because it can be too shallow for anything but his hovercraft.

"It doesn't really matter how deep the water is or whether there are rocks or ice or snow," Fitzgerald explained.

Marion County hovercraft in shallow water

That's because the hovercraft literally hovers nine inches above the surface.

"A hovercraft doesn't know any difference between land and water," Fitzgerald explained.

It's that amphibious quality that makes the craft so appealing to rescuers. It moves from water to land on a cushion of air. It's a simple concept that's very complicated to produce.

Hovercraft photo Indianapolis Fire Department

"It takes us about 600 hours to produce a craft," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald is still trying to develop the hovercraft market. But he knows firefighters and police departments appreciate these machines, especially once they learn how to fly them.

"They tend to be a real ego buster in the hands of a novice," Fitzgerald said.

That's why it takes hours of training, ultimately learning the spins and other techniques that will give the "pilot" the skill needed for rescue maneuvers.

Fitzgerald said a hovercraft shows its value in situations that would be off-limits to any other vehicle.

"If you can use some other vehicle, than you don't need the hovercraft. It's sort of a poor-man's helicopter.

The big difference, though, is it's much less expensive and much safer to use," Fitzgerald said.

If they needed to rescue someone in trapped in debris during a flood, the hovercraft could swoop right to the victim to be pulled on board to safety.

The new hovercraft will be bigger than the one News 8 tested and, while it will be kept at an Indianapolis fire station, the craft will be available for emergencies across central Indiana.

It's a $57,000 machine paid for by a federal Homeland Security grant.

 
 
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