While thousands of fun seekers hit Grand Lake this holiday for fun in the sun, a few dedicated individuals will be hard at work doing their part to keep boaters safe.
The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) Lake Patrol will be out in force all weekend.
Not only do GRDA officers patrol the lake in boats, they patrol the lake in helicopters.
“We supply the eyes from above,” said GRDA Helicopter Pilot Brian Lambert.
Lambert, who flies for GRDA on the weekends, explained that his job is many-faceted.
“We do things like keep people out of the spillways (at Pensacola Dam). When the gates are open, that water is rushing really fast and sometimes kids get down too close,” he said.
Lambert is not a lake patrol officer himself. Rather, he provides the flying expertise so GRDA law enforcement officers can survey the lake from an aerial point of view.
He said sometimes boaters run aground in unfamiliar surroundings and call for help without knowing where they are.
The helicopter is indispensable in such cases, saving time and lives.
While officers want to prevent drownings, they also help out when drownings have occurred.
Lambert explained that the helicopter he flies, a 1984 Bell 206 LongRanger L-1, is equipped with an infrared camera that relays images to a video display in the back seat.
Officers can use the camera to pick up differences in temperature under the water and along the shoreline, which can help them to locate drowning victims.
In addition to patrolling the lake, GRDA helicopters are used to check the many miles of power lines that fall under GRDA’s jurisdiction.
Lambert said helicopters have distinct advantages to small planes when it comes to surveying the ground from above.
Maneuverability is key for police and medical personnel.
“It’s slower to fly in a helicopter, but you don’t need a runway,” Lambert said. “It has a lot more versatility.”
According to Lambert, helicopters are heavier than small planes, so they are less sensitive to air currents.
“It’s a smooth ride,” he said.
Lambert started his aviation career as a helicopter mechanic in the army. He works during the week as an airline mechanic for American Airlines.
He said he does double-duty for GRDA, flying and performing maintenance and repair on the two helicopters that comprise the GRDA fleet.
“It’s fun to fly, and fun to take them down for inspection,” he said, adding that he loves his job.
GRDA officials would like to urge everyone to have a safe and fun holiday on Grand Lake this Memorial Day weekend.