That's really what it's all about, is trying to make a difference. One life at a time, really. —Terry Mercer, DPS pilot
SALT LAKE CITY — As the temperatures rise, more and more people will be enjoying the outdoors, going camping and hiking. Some will get lost or hurt; and when they do, there’s a good chance the Utah Department of Public Safety's search and rescue team will be called to help.
"It's critical in the search and rescue mission," said Terry Mercer, a DPS pilot. He's been doing it for more than 20 years and knows it's about to get real busy.
"They're getting spring fever, and they want to get out and start hiking," Mercer said.
That's what Victoria Grover, of Wade, Maine, was doing April 24. The 59-year-old survived four days in a remote area near Boulder, Garfield County, with a broken leg, few supplies and very little food before she was rescued April 28. She also suffers from Type 2 diabetes.
"We were riding a high for a while on this one," said Aaron Beesley, a Utah Highway Patrol tactical flight officer. "We felt like we contributed to her rescue."
Some missions are quite daring. In August 2009, Mercer’s precision landings on a pinnacle rock helped save an injured hiker on Red Mountain in Washington County. He repositioned the 37-foot aircraft on the 25-foot-wide pinnacle several times ferrying search-and-rescue crews to the site of an injured hiker.
"The pictures were much more dramatic than the landing," Mercer said.
Now, Mercer is helping to train Utah's newest pilot, Shane Oldfield, who just started this week. Oldfield knows he has big shoes to fill.
"(I am) coming into a very established organization. I just hope that I can keep up the tradition," Oldfield said.
This team can be going almost every day in the spring and summer, but that's also what makes the job exciting.
"That's really what it's all about, is trying to make a difference. One life at a time, really," Mercer said.
The team travels to counties all across Utah. It has looked at the numbers and says it saves roughly 10 to 15 people a year who would not have lived if not for the helicopter being able to find and rescue them.