BY MIKE GLANVILLE
Mention the word “hovercraft” and people typically say, “Oh, I thought hovercraft disappeared a long time ago; they were too expensive to purchase and run.” But this is not so. New developments in hovercraft design have considerably reduced the initial outlay and operating costs and help improve safety for rescuers during flooding-, ice-, mud-, and sand-rescue situations. Hovercraft help rescuers reach victims more quickly.
Despite the best efforts of countries to stop global warming, the recent news coverage detailing the spate of floods around the world could not have gone unnoticed. Although there is much talk at government levels that something should be done to have the correct resources available, too often local authorities do not have the right equipment to respond to so-called “natural disasters.” As we all know, response time can make all the difference between rescue and body recovery.
It takes preplanning to have the right equipment on hand to cope with natural disasters. There’s no point in purchasing flood-response equipment after the waters have receded.
HOVERCRAFT VS. OTHER RESCUE METHODS
How do hovercraft compare with time-tested rescue methods? New rescue hovercraft allow for a very quick response to help minimize body recovery operations. Hovercraft also protect rescuers.
During flooding operations, hovercraft have no propellers to get snagged on wire fencing straddled across fields or to get damaged on street furniture submerged in flooded towns. Rescuers in Cumbria, United Kingdom, recently waded through raw sewerage, pushing their rigid inflatable boats to reach victims when drainage systems overflowed. They were unable to engage the engine for fear of damaging the propeller on submerged street furniture.
Photo courtesy of Reaction International Ltd. (Hov Pod designer and manufacturer).
Rescue hovercraft can carry two rescuers and a victim at speeds approaching 45 miles per hour over any flat surface. They are quick to respond, are easy to tow behind a standard vehicle, and need no police escorts. Some of the latest craft have been designed for ease in operation—no special driver’s license or long training courses are required; most rescuers can operate rescue hovercraft after a couple of hours of instruction.
HEALTH AND SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS
Mud and quicksand rescues are particularly hazardous for rescuers; rescuers have to use duckboards or lie horizontally to reach victims. This takes time and energy, and time is not in ample supply during such rescue situations—victims and rescuers may succumb to the cold and drown in tidal areas. Hovercraft work 24/7 over any flat surface and are largely unaffected by fast running water, as they glide at a height of nine inches above the surface.
ICE RESCUES—RISK OF HYPOTHERMIA
Skaters, snowmobilers, and ice fishermen regularly fall through thin ice. How do you rescue them without placing your life or the lives of your colleagues at risk? Current ice rescue techniques take too long; rescuers use inflatable walkways, limited to five meters or so in length, and have to dress in dry suits. Falling through the ice can place the victim in shock, and rescuers do not have the time to don dry suits. A small hovercraft can be towed behind a standard car and fly over the ice. Rescue boats do not work well on ice.
Hovercraft can fly over ice or water. Ice rescue requires a speedy conclusion, because hypothermia can immobilize the victim and rescuers. After 10 minutes of extreme cold, victims may not be able to grab a lifeline. A hovercraft can quickly transport a victim back to shore and up the slipway to a waiting ambulance. You do not even have to disembark the victim at the water’s edge as you do with boat transport.
RESCUE HOVERCRAFT AND OTHER VEHICLES
Helicopters are expensive to purchase and operate and create a massive downdraft that can hinder rescue attempts. Operators must be careful around power lines and in areas with tree cover.
The latest rescue models are manufactured from high-density polyethylene, which is strong, lightweight, and extremely buoyant. They have four-stroke turbocharged engines for maximum performance and can carry a payload suitable for water rescue.
The Red Cross recently put its rescue hovercraft through its paces during the Cumbria floods, when flash flooding swept away a number of bridges. The United Nations World Food Program uses the craft in extreme conditions in Sudan, to cross over rivers where no bridges are available.
● MIKE GLANVILLE is sales & marketing manager for Reaction International Ltd. (Hov Pod design and manufacturer).