Budget cuts could mothball search and rescue chopper

SNOHOMISH, Wash. -- They've saved countless hikers stranded in the wilderness, but now Snohomish County's search and rescue helicopter could be grounded for good, if they don't get some money soon.

"It would be extremely unfortunate if this program vanished," said rescuer Miles McDonugh.

Facing major funding cuts, the team may be forced to ground their helo, Snohawk-10, for good.

"It's a free resource," McDonugh said. "We never charge for any of the rescues we do."

McDonough knows more than anyone the lives that could cost. Two years ago, he fell 70 feet during a recreational climb and had to be rescued.

"I fractured my scapula and about four ribs, collapsed a lung," he said. "It was a pretty traumatic experience."

He often wonders what would happen if Snohawk-10 and his fellow rescuers -- most of them volunteers -- didn't come for him, or what if he won't be able to show up for someone else.

For years, money from a federal timber tax paid for the helicopter's repairs, maintenance and fuel, but soon that tax will expire. Snohomish County and the state don't have the extra budget money and if they can't make up the difference, they can't fly and the helo would be mothballed.

Sergeant Danny Wikstrom, who's in charge of the team, says they're now exploring every fundraising option, including selling T-shirts.

"It would be hard for me to imagine what it would be like here if we did not have this program to apply out there to people who are desperately in trouble," Wikstrom said.

Volunteers on the team are also organizing a fundraising dinner in the spring.