Move over hovercraft; here comes air boat for sheriff’s water rescue

The Mille Lacs County Sheriff Department’s new air boat sits on a trailer in front of the historic county courthouse on Dec. 17.
The Mille Lacs County Sheriff Department’s new air boat sits on a trailer in front of the historic county courthouse on Dec. 17.

The hovercraft that has been serving the Mille Lacs County Sheriff Office’s water rescue operations for 17 years is to be replaced by a new air boat this coming year.
The hovercraft was purchased in 1996 with more than $25,000 in donated funds from businesses, organizations and private sources in Mille Lacs, Morrison, Crow Wing and Aitkin counties and has been used in many water rescue operations. One of the biggest rescues involving the hovercraft was in late December 2011 when more than 20 people were reported stranded on moving ice on Mille Lacs Lake.
The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners got to see the sheriff’s new, green-colored air boat during the Dec. 17 business meeting. Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren had the five commissioners look out windows of the courthouse to see the new air boat on its trailer parked outside.
An air boat is different than a hovercraft in that a hovercraft creates a cushion of air below its hull so that it floats above the surface, while the air boat does not do that. The large propeller on the back of the air boat pushes it along.
Lindgren explained that the department bought the air boat and its trailer for $62,850, using a $67,500 federal boat and water equipment grant.
The new air boat has a 550 HP engine to drive the propeller, and it has a reinforced hull and special skid plates for going over ice, rocks, land and water.
Lindgren said the air boat was custom built for Mille Lacs Lake. According to Mille Lacs County Chief Deputy Kent Larson, it was built by Duck Water Boats Inc. in Dover, Ohio.
Lindgren gave credit to Jerome Kryzer, of Onamia, a longtime member of the sheriff’s search and rescue operation, for raising the money 17 years ago to acquire the hovercraft that the sheriff’s department plans to sell.
The hovercraft, for now, still will be the department’s rescue boat until the new air boat is equipped with lights and rescue equipment and personnel are trained to operate it.
The Aitkin County Sheriff’s Office, which has an identical air boat, will provide the training, Larson said last week.
There are advantages to the air boat over the hovercraft, Larson said. He explained how a hovercraft needs a flat surface to hover properly and that it doesn’t do well over tall grass or on the ice ridges that develop on Mille Lacs Lake. A hovercraft also blows hard against the surface and that the particles that fly up makes it hard to see at times during a rescue, according to Larson.
An air boat was the most viable choice for Mille Lacs County because it has more pros than cons and can be maneuvered over ice ridges and into a lot of places for rescue, Larson said.
The county’s search and rescue department has two coordinators – Dennis Boser and Tom Boser – and the rest of the search and rescue people are volunteers, including the search and rescue divers.