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Three choppers cover CNY as Air-1's future hangs in the air

With county funds cut, Sheriff Walsh looks elsewhere to keep Air-1 flying

Air-1 flies over central New York, but funding cuts has made the Sheriff look elsewhere.

Air-1 flies over central New York, but funding cuts has made the Sheriff look elsewhere.

“I don’t so much care about the fact that we’re saving lives, I care that it’s costing Onondaga County taxpayers money for the time we’re outside of the county.”

— Onondaga County Sheriff Kevin Walsh

Air One advantage

Air-1 has one major advantage over Mercy Flight Central, Walsh said.

“It’s used primarily for police work,” he said. Of the 1,028 calls that Air-1 responded to in 2010, nearly 1,000 were police work — lighting up dark areas, following high-speed pursuits and searching for lost hunters or dementia patients. The helicopter is also the only in the area with a Bambi Bucket, allowing for 500 gallons of water to be dropped on a remote or large-scale fire.

The 12-year-old helicopter splits air time with the New York State Police helicopter. The county’s helicopter is used to fly between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. daily, staffed with four pilots who double as deputy sheriffs.

“I think we should emphasize we’re the only ship that does all three things: police work, rescues and medical transports,” Walsh said. “Mercy Flight can not do police and rescue work. They don’t do, and can’t do, that work.”

Walsh says eliminating the availability of Air-1 could mean limited searches for police work.

“Equipment on the ground is good for about a mile, the helicopter is good for about seven miles,” he said. “It makes for a quicker search.”

“Central New York doesn’t use helicopters as much in the overall scheme of things. I don’t think there’s a culture here of using air medical services.”

— Neil Snedeker, president of Mercy Flight Central

Coverage area

Air-1 works to cover Onondaga County as a priority, Walsh said.

“The biggest advantage of Air-1 is that it’s the only helicopter that 97 percent of the time is exclusively in Onondaga County,” he said. “Air-1 spends less than 3 to 5 percent of its time outside Onondaga County and those are in emergency situations.”

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