Hovercraft Deployed More Often as Nature of Storms Evolves

On a much colder day than this one, firefighters from Carver, Massachusetts, pic and crawl their way across the ice.

They're rushing to rescue a woman who has fallen through. It's a training exercise on Sampson's Pond in Carver. And the fire department has launched its secret weapon. At first glance, it looks like a boat, but it's actually a hovercraft.

It glides on a pocket of air just above the ground. With little set-up, it can get to victims quickly, avoiding what firefighters say can be a terrifying time for victims -- waiting and watching as rescuers make the laborious journey on their bellies, panic setting in.

"By the time you get to that person, they're going to try and attack you and do whatever they can," said firefighter Austin White. "With this, we can kind of control the environment."

According to state data, firefighters average about 45 ice rescues a season -- people and pets plucked from frigid waters.

"It's just an incredible feeling, I can't explain it to you," said Deputy Fire Chief Eric Germaine.

But as the nature of storms evolve here in New England and across the country, the hovercraft is proving to be an ace in the hole.

"It can go over anything," White explained. "It can go over broken ice, water, mud, land."

It doesn't have to stop for each change in terrain. There is no propeller to get caught on rocks or chunks of ice and firefighters don’t need to drag trapped people through water or carry them on their backs.

"You can just fly this up to their door, pick them up, get them in, fly them to safety," said White.

We saw them used during Hurricane Harvey and hovering over the mudslides in California, where a swift current of earth could have overpowered a boat.

"You don't have much time. I can't even imagine it," said White.

Of course, they hope they won't need the hovercraft, but are ready if they do.

"From the time we pull up on scene, we have firefighters with that victim, saving a life," Germaine said.

The state doesn't track the number of hovercraft departments have. Carver got theirs in 1992 and refurbished it a few years ago for $23,000.

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