An air force to be reck­oned with


The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - THE WORLD - AVA BENNY- MOR­RI­SON CRIME RE­PORTER

PO­LICE pi­lot Matt Stan­ton has clocked up thou­sand of hours in­side he­li­copter cock­pits.

He has tracked armed crim­i­nals leap­ing over back­yard fences and des­per­ate driv­ers veer­ing in and out of traf­fic in a bid to shake the po­lice cars on their tails.

From the air, he has called out the names of miss­ing peo­ple over the he­li­copter’s PA sys­tem and watched strangers come out of their homes and join the search.

But af­ter 11 years with the NSW Po­lice Force Avi­a­tion Com­mand, there is one job in par­tic­u­lar that sticks out in his mind.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the he­li­copter,” Mr Stan­ton re­called of the in­ci­dent, dur­ing an in­ter­view com­mem­o­rat­ing the air wing’s 40th an­niver­sary.

It was July, 2009 and PolAir had been help­ing with the search for back­packer Jamie Neale, who had been miss­ing in rugged bush­land in the Blue Moun­tains for 10 days.

By day 11, po­lice in­formed Mr Neale’s fa­ther, Richard Cass, that the chance of finding his 19-year-old son alive was slim.

Mr Cass then boarded a flight back home to the United King­dom. His flight was still on the tar­mac at Syd­ney In­ter­na­tional Air­port when an of­fi­cer en­tered the plane to tell him his son had just walked out of the bush af­ter 12 days miss­ing.

“(Mr Cass) had ba­si­cally buried

his son, he put a memo­rial plaque in the Blue Moun­tains and said his good­byes,” Mr Stan­ton re­called.

At the di­rec­tive of the then-NSW Po­lice Com­mis­sioner, PolAir picked up Mr Cass from Syd­ney Air­port and flew him to Ka­toomba Hos­pi­tal to see his son.

“He was sit­ting on a Bri­tish Air­ways flight to fly home and they held the plane at the gate,” Mr Stan­ton re­called.

“He was in tears the whole way. “You can imag­ine think­ing your child is dead and buried and then he turns up alive.”

Av­er­ag­ing about seven flights per day in the past 12 months, the air wing has be­come the go-to re­source in the force when time — and ac­cess — is crit­i­cal.

The NSW Po­lice Force Air Com­mand has come a long way since its cre­ation in 1979, when it had one he­li­copter — a Bell 206B Jet Ranger III — base at Syd­ney Air­port.

NSW Po­lice was the first po­lice force in the Com­mon­wealth to op­er­ate its own plane — the Neme­sis in 1946,

But a rise in armed rob­beries in the late 70s forced the state gov­ern­ment to con­sider chop­pers as a crime-fight­ing tool.

To­day, the Avi­a­tion Com­mand, com­monly known by cops and crooks as PolAir, boasts five he­li­copters and three fixed wing air­craft with a team of 70 staff.

It can be re­vealed four new pi­lots will join the ranks next month with re­cruit­ment un­der way for an­other five by the end of the year.

The boost will co­in­cide with PolAir mov­ing into its new base at Bankstown Air­port and the de­liv­ery of three new he­li­copters, worth $48 mil­lion and to re­place three ex­ist­ing air­craft, late next year.

Keep­ing up with modern tech­nol­ogy, the air wing now also con­trols NSW Po­lice Force’s fleet of drones although of­fi­cers from the Res­cue Squad are still re­spon­si­ble for op­er­at­ing the drones.

PolAir has the abil­ity to be air­borne within two min­utes of re­ceiv­ing a call for as­sis­tance with search and res­cue op­er­a­tions mak­ing up the bulk of the work last year.

The he­li­copters’ high def­i­ni­tion video cam­eras and for­ward look­ing in­fra red (FLIR) are some of their best as­sets.

The tech­nol­ogy helps them clearly track cars dur­ing high-speed chases and footage can be live streamed back to po­lice head­quar­ters.

“If you get in­volved and get sight of a ve­hi­cle in a pur­suit, you have a 93 per cent suc­cess rate,” Avi­a­tion com­man­der Su­per­in­ten­dent Matthew Ap­ple­ton said.

Supt Ap­ple­ton re­called a po­lice pur­suit in Fair­field where PolAir 3 spot­ted one of the of­fender’s throw­ing a sawn-off shot­gun into the bush.

“(On FLIR) you could see this thing fly­ing through the air clear as a bell,” he said. “But none of us would have seen it if it wasn’t for PolAir.”

The Cess­nas are of­ten de­ployed for longer trips to coun­try ar­eas, but they are also used for their clan­des­tine abil­i­ties in higher al­ti­tude sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tions.

Chief pi­lot Salli-Ann Ward and Matt Stan­ton, head of he­li­copter op­er­a­tions. Pic­ture: Sam Ruttyn A PolAir he­li­copter flies along the Syd­ney coast­line.

A PolAir unit con­ducts search and res­cue train­ing off Wanda Beach ( above) and on pa­trol, day and night over the city and bush (left, be­low). The orig­i­nal NSW Po­lice chop­pers PolAir 1, 2 and 3.

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