Friday, November 18, 2011

Air and Marine flight along U.S. Border

Story by Stephanie Sanchez, Reporter

Yuma, AZ--The war against drug and human smuggling is fought right here in the Desert Southwest.

They are the eyes in the sky along the southwest border.

The Office of Air and Marine is the world's largest aviation and maritime law enforcement organization, providing support for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the air and water.

In the Arizona desert, a bird's eye view permits greater border coverage in rugged, desolate areas which sometimes a U.S. Border Patrol Agent on the ground has trouble reaching.

"We'll take off here, fly down the river, hit the border, go out east and we just do a border patrol of the desert," Air Interdiction pilot, Daniel Jones said." And that what's what were going to do to see if we can find something."

An operational flight usually lasts 3 to 4 hours.

Before take-off Jones goes thru a checklist.

Agent Jones is flying the American Eurocopter AS-350 A-star.

It's one of the few helicopters maintaining their performance from sea level up to 9,000 feet.

But sometimes high winds or rain can affect a pilot's search for illegal border crossers.

"I didn't see any trash or anything in there. The rain must have washed a lot of it away because I didn't see anything but I couldn't get slow, I couldn't get low, it was so windy," Jones said.

Agent Jones lands at Border Patrol's Camp Grip to add fuel to the A-star.

The base lays 75 miles southeast of Yuma, the camp is definition of "the middle of nowhere."

Agents from the Wellton and Ajo border stations stay at the camp for days at a time.

When scanning the desert, pilots look for new tire tracks, footprints or anything out of the ordinary.

Being up in the air, most interruptions to untouched desert landscape stick out like a sore thumb.

Hours pass by and Agent Jones hasn't seen anything suspicious.

He then flies back to the Yuma base.

"It was nasty out there, like blowing dust and sand, it was crazy," Jones said.
Today Agent Jones's flight came out empty handed.

Before federal budget cuts, pilots completed at least 8 hours of flight time.

Now, any time a pilot has left is spent filling out paperwork regarding any situation they run into along the border.

Jones said sometimes paperwork could take 30 minutes.

Jones said you never know what will happen during your shift.

He said sometimes you'll find something and sometimes you wont.

Desert News

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