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Billings Flying Service owner uses helicopter for late-night Yellowstone River rescue

Billings Flying Service owner uses helicopter for late-night Yellowstone River rescue

A boater who became stranded on an island in the Yellowstone River late Wednesday night was flown to shore in a helicopter by Billings Flying Service owner Gary Blain.

The Billings Fire Department, Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office and American Medical Response had all responded to the situation after the call for the stranded boater came in at around midnight.

The boater had some kind of mechanical issue and had run aground on a sandbar. He was able to get safely to higher ground on a nearby island, which BFD Battalion Chief Jason Lyon said was just west of Mullowney Lane.

Blain became involved in the rescue after local agencies requested access to the river through the nearby Blain's Mobile Home Court.

"Because of Billings Flying Service's very generous help, we were able to avoid having left the boater on the island until this morning when it would have been light enough for the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office to bring their rescue boat," Lyon said. 

The fire department does not operate water rescue craft at night, and the battalion chief added that to his understanding the sheriff's office does not typically operate their rescue boat after dark either. 

"That's all about operator safety. I can't speak to the exact protocols of the sheriff's office, but for the fire department's rescue team, we have a pair of specially equipped jet skis that do not have any scene lighting capabilities," Lyon said. "You can't do it outside of what you can see with your eyes and the water rescue craft operator's ability to see things, like maybe the sandbar that the boater last night hit, is nonexistent."

Blain carried out the rescue in his helicopter at about 1 a.m. Lyon said that he believed both the boater and the boater's dog were picked up and brought safely to shore. The fire department concluded its involvement at about 2 a.m.

The man's location was determined via GPS and 911 dispatchers were able to guide responders to the location during the initial response. Lyon said that the boater's cellphone was low on battery, so once he was confirmed to be safe he was asked to turn the device off to preserve its remaining power.

Lyon was on shore opposite to where the boater was dropped off, and so he had only limited details about the exact issues that had led to the boater being stranded.

The battalion chief said he believed the boater would be retrieving his watercraft from the river Thursday. He described the boater as a male Yellowstone County resident.

Billings Flying Service is a locally owned business that specializes in contracting out its fleet of helicopters for a variety of services including power line construction, firefighting and equipment transportation.

The company website notes that its fleet includes CH-47D Chinooks, Sikorsky UH60 Blackhawks and Bell 212HP and 206L aircraft.

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