Two Bear to the Rescue

By Beacon Staff

‘Tis the season.

It’s an overused adage this time of year, when the holidays overlap and the weather turns, but in the Search and Rescue community the cliché carries a different meaning.

Search and rescue is deeply rooted in the Flathead Valley, and sees an uptick in calls in the winter months, as well as in the urgency of backcountry trips gone awry.

The number of search and rescue incidents has continued to rise in recent years, according to statistics from the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office. In 2011, there were more than 100 calls and the following year surpassed that mark.

As crews prepare for the winter months – the busiest time of year along with spring and early summer during high water – the arrival of the newest member of the Two Bear Aviation fleet couldn’t come at a better time.

This week, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and Two Bear Air unveiled the much-anticipated Bell 429 rescue helicopter, the flagship vessel born of a philanthropic partnership between Flathead County and Mike Goguen, of Whitefish.

“Residents and visitors are drawn to enjoy the natural resources and rugged atmosphere of our area, but this influx of growth has also brought more people into secluded areas requiring additional resources,” Jordan White, executive director of Two Bear Air, said in a press release. “Two years ago when we began raising money for public safety aviation, I never dreamed that we would have such an amazing gift of a world-class helicopter.”

“You can’t put a value on saving even one life,” said Goguen. “Montana is a place where we help our neighbors and I feel privileged to be able to give this gift to the Flathead Valley community.”

The Bell 429 took more than a year to build and is equipped with highly advanced technology specifically selected to aid in the search for missing people and to allow complex rescues in Northwest Montana’s mountainous terrain. Pilots from Two Bear Air and a flight crew of sheriff’s office personnel staff the helicopter on missions.

The new twin-engine helicopter adds additional capabilities beyond what was previously offered by Two Bear Air’s smaller MD 500 E, single-engine helicopter. Features like night vision, specialized cameras, 3D mapping systems and a rescue hoist make it a world-class aircraft of the likes never seen before in Flathead County.

The flight crew has spent the past month training on the helicopter’s technical equipment and has already flown several public safety missions. Additional training will be ongoing as the team works with search and rescue teams and other agencies across the region.

The aircraft was on display for the first time this weekend, Nov. 9 and 10 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the parking lot of the new Cabela’s store in Kalispell. Crew members were available to answer questions about the aircraft, the program and provide tips for staying safe in the outdoors.

Based in Whitefish, Two Bear Air provides world-class aviation support for search and rescue teams in Flathead County and other agencies across the region.

Using the most advanced technology available, Goguen supported all costs of the operation with no cost to taxpayers, promoting the mission of ultimately saving lives.

Two Bear Air works in close partnership with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and Kalispell Regional Medical Center’s ALERT helicopter, adding to the rich history of rural aviation support across the rugged and vast landscape near Glacier National Park. For more information, visit www.TwoBearAir.org.

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