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07 February 2014

First responders: Is a hovercraft right for you?

There’s no better way for first responders to determine if a hovercraft will suit their rescue needs than to undergo a training course at HTC – just like Chris Kleppe and Sean Geib.

Chris (Supervisor) and Sean (Assistant Supervisor) are in charge of the University of Wisconsin Lifesaving Station in Madison. Established in 1909 on 10,000-acre Lake Mendota, the Station is a safety and rescue operation for both the University and the city of Madison. 

Sean Geib (left) and Chris Kleppe (right) receive their Hovercraft Pilot & Maintenance Certifications
from HTC Senior Instructor Chris Fitzgerald.
But, as Chris explains, “We have no ice rescue capabilities at the Lifesaving Station – none whatsoever. We need to have some way to get out there to someone who might be in trouble – especially the ice fishermen because they have to travel across unsafe ice to get to the safe ice to fish. ATVs won’t do that. Once we saw a fisherman out on a hovercraft - okay, the light went on.

Sean adds, “And you’d be surprised how many people will walk out onto unsafe ice. Close to the lake is the University with more than 40,000 students from all over the world. Some of them are familiar with ice, but many aren’t, so they do high-risk things we just can’t believe. And with global warming, we’re getting more and more days of thin ice and more risk.”

The pair describes why they decided to undergo training before buying a hovercraft: “The more training you have, the better you’re equipped to help someone out in emergency situations where your adrenaline is running high. We both also understood that a hovercraft is not a boat; this is something completely outside our realm of knowledge, so we decided it would be both advantageous and fun to get the training.

And we’re here to have some questions answered, too,” explains Sean, “Not only from the operational standpoint but to see if it will be compatible with our facility, since we have no flat spaces and no ramps.

Fittingly, Chris and Sean’s training on a frigid January day showed them exactly how a hovercraft operates on ice. Check out the photos of their flight training session below, then read what they had to say after completing their training course …

After a morning of classroom instruction, Chris Kleppe learns how
to fuel the hovercraft at the Wabash River training site.
Next, Sean inspects the skirts as they learn to conduct a thorough preflight inspection.
With HTC instructor Chris Fitzgerald at the controls, Chris Kleppe is ready to launch
on the partially-frozen river for his first flight instruction session.
Now behind the controls, Chris Kleppe sees first-hand why a hovercraft is the only vehicle
able to travel safely and easily over thin or broken ice.
Now Chris learns how to fly the craft over water.
During their flight training sessions, both Chris (piloting the craft) and Sean (waiting back on shore for his session) receive constant feedback and instruction from their HTC instructor via wireless headsets.
After returning to Wisconsin, HTC received the following email from Chris Kleppe describing their training experience:

We both felt the training was very important. Floating on air is the best way to describe how it felt to me. Certainly the feeling was completely different than any other vehicles that I have piloted. Most surprising was the need to think way ahead of any maneuver that was made. Without the training, I could foresee a future disaster by way of a crash. To anyone trying to pilot the craft with no training I would say, ‘DO NOT DO IT.’ Plain and simple.

The hovercraft would be a useful tool for the Lifesaving Station during the freeze up and thaw out of the lake when the risk of someone going through the unsafe ice is very high. To perform winter lake safety work on Lake Mendota, I feel the hovercraft would be essential.”


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