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Help Teton County SAR Get Their Own Year Round Helicopter

Did you know that one of the busiest and most capable mountain search and rescue organizations in the country doesn't actually own their own helicopter? Despite Since it was founded in 1993, Teton County Search & Rescue has never had a year-round SAR-dedicated helicopter. For many years, the team contracted helicopters based on need from various private organizations and the National Guard. This service slowly expanded to include the winter months, and for the last five years, the team has contracted a rescue helicopter from October 1 to May 31 to act as a rescue vehicle during the ever-busier winter months in the Tetons. That leaves the organization officially without their own helicopter during the even busier summer and fall months, when the same helicopter is on contract with the US Forest Service and Grand Teton National Park. Currently, TCSAR is running their ongoing Mission Critical campaign to raise the $7.2 million required to own an operate an Airbus H125 helicopter year-round. 

The amount of heli-response calls has increased dramatically in recent years, with 21 calls in 2022, and a continuously growing amount in 2023. Over the years, leased helicopters have enabled TCSAR to perform rescues that previously weren’t possible. After an accident, patients can be extracted from complex terrain in a timeframe that greatly increases their chances for survival, while also puts SAR members at far less risk. Terrain can be accessed from above and teams can be inserted into the field without traveling through unsafe environments. Rescues that would have taken multiple days on foot or on snowmobiles in the past can be completed in a matter of hours with a helicopter. 

TCSAR's leased heli in action during a short-haul operation. | TCSAR photo.

Using helicopters has drastically changed our rescue profile. In years past, technical rescues such as avalanche burials, rope access in vertical or technical terrain in winter or summer, swiftwater, and missing person searches required an entire team effort and hundreds of pounds of gear all carried in on foot. Today, with a helicopter, we can often accomplish similar rescues, even in more technical terrain, in just an hour or two and do so with fewer rescuers. By increasing our response time and decreasing rescuer exposure, we not only mitigate hazards to the rescuer, but we are bringing those in need to definitive care much quicker and increase their chances for a better outcome.

—Tim Ciocarlan, TCSAR Founding Member

Once the Teton County Sheriff's Office (which under Wyoming law has oversight over TCSAR) is able to purchase the H125 helicopter  from Airbus, they will train two full-time pilots to operate the ship. The H125 (known as the AStar) is the most advanced and capable helicopter for mountain flight today and is what TCSAR currently leases. The $7.2 million budget will cover the cost of a new ship, and necessary infrastructure for it operate, including fuel systems, maintenance, pilots, and more. 

Under their Part 135 operating license, TCSAR will also make the helicopter available to other agencies in the event of emergencies. As outlined by TCSAR, the ship will be made available in the event of the following: Fighting fires that threaten homes and buildings in Teton County, as a local on-call air resource in the event of an earthquake, wildfire, or
other natural disaster, such as the devastating floods in communities around Yellowstone National Park in June 2022, installing avalanche utilities on Teton Pass, Hoback and Snake River canyons, additional avalanche control, and utility and communication installations. 

Donate to TCSAR's Mission Critical fund today. 

About The Author

stash member Max Ritter

I manage digital content here at TGR, run our gear testing program, and am stoked to be living the dream in the Tetons.