BRISTOL, Va. -- The helicopter hovered about 100 feet above South Holston Lake. A member of the Virginia State Police's tactical team rappelled down toward the water, sliding on a cable. Waiting on shore was a member of the state police scuba team, playing the part of the victim.
The tactical team member reached the victim and strapped him into the harness. The two then were pulled back up to the helicopter and deposited safely on land a few hundred yards away.
All in a day's work. Or training, as the case was when members of the state police tactical team and Med-Flight II crew and nurses learned to rappel out of a helicopter and rescue someone.
The training was possible because of the new state police helicopter, which features a hoist system that can support 600 pounds -- enabling a crew member to go down and retrieve a person rather than just sending the basket down, said John Ratliff, an aviation sergeant with the Virginia State Police.
"It's all about speed and getting people the help they need as soon as possible," he said.
Those at the training were already qualified to operate the hoist, he said, but after one recent lesson, would also be qualified to go down the hoist and rescue a person.
"We can use this in a couple different ways," said Trooper Danny Truett, who is on the Virginia State Police tactical team. "We could use it with the tactical team just as a rescue device or if we need to transport someone in really fast we could rappel out of the helicopter."
Each member of the tactical team and Med-Flight crew at the training practiced rappelling out of the helicopter on their own and returning before taking on the added weight of the rescued person.
"This is my first time rappelling with the new equipment," said Tim Smith, a Med-Flight nurse, before going up. "I'm excited; it's going to be fun."
He said the biggest advantage to the hoist is the ability for medical personnel to reach people sooner.
"It will allow us access to patients we'd be unable to get to in remote areas," he said. "They can long-line me down and I can do stabilization (of the patient) on the ground. It's a really important time issue."
He said there are some areas in the region the Med-Flight team services that are difficult to reach by ambulance or other emergency vehicle -- such as the top of Mount Rogers.
"We've had to hike out there," he said. "It's a hard time."
A three-man crew is needed on rescue missions, Ratliff said: the pilot, the hoist operator and the one who rappels down for the rescue.
The members of the scuba team on hand were participating primarily to ensure nothing went wrong during training -- they had two patrol boats circling the training area.
Members of the scuba team help with on-land searches, too, Trooper Ken Daugherty said, and dive year-round, assisting other agencies with search and rescue or criminal investigations.
They said the hoist system on the new helicopter would be useful for their work, too.
"Instead of carrying the person out by hand, we can airlift them to the hospital," Trooper C.D. Greear said. "It's a quicker transport to the hospital."