On the eve of “Kites on Ice,” which brings professional kiters from around the globe to sail their enormous and exotic kites on the iced-over Lake Mendota, County Executive Kathleen Falk and Dane County Sheriff Gary Hamblin demonstrated how the county is prepared for rescues on icy waters.
Falk included the $37,000 patrol boat in last year’s capital budget. It holds up to five passengers, and can accommodate a stretcher for an injured person.
“People use our wonderful lakes and rivers all year round. The airboat gives us the ability to respond to winter emergencies on these waters,” said Falk. “Dane County is home to 37 lakes, covering 33 square miles, 68 streams and rivers extending 475 miles, in addition to 14 miles of the Wisconsin River. That’s a lot of water to cover.”
Sheriff Hamblin said, “We are able to use the airboat to cross ice, water and land faster and safer than in previous years. It is safer for the rescuers and safer to transport anglers, skaters, ice boaters, and walkers back to shore for emergency medical service.”
Since the airboat can travel over both ice and water, it is particularly useful in situations where ice is thin and may break into open water.
The 18 x 8 foot custom built Panther airboat has a 454 horsepower motor and many technological advances over the 20-year old airboat it replaced. It runs over ice, water, marshes and land, traveling up to 100 miles per hour over ice, and 40 to 50 miles per hour over water. It also has two searchlights for night rescues. The boat has two, six-blade counter rotating propellers in the back, and looks similar to airboats used to give rides in the Florida Everglades.
Driving the airboat today was Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Nelson, of the Marine and Trail Enforcement Unit. He said the airboat will be on hand during Kites on Ice.
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