- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Alaska State Troopers are putting one of two rescue helicopters in storage due to budget constraints.

Troopers are moving forward with plans to store Helo 2 under a state budget passed by lawmakers last week that doesn’t include the $500,000 initially proposed by Gov. Bill Walker to fund the helicopters, the Alaska Dispatch News reported (https://bit.ly/1Lfv201).

The Fairbanks-based helicopter has an annual price tag of $161,000 to operate compared to $63,000 for Helo 3 based in Anchorage. Helo 1 crashed during a 2013 rescue, killing its three passengers.

The public safety department spent $3 million each to purchase the aircrafts. Officials say the department’s aircraft division has struggled to maintain staffing and funding for years.

Capt. Bernard Chastain says the helicopter will be stored indefinitely starting June 30. If funding is not restored, both may be sold.

Trooper spokeswoman Megan Peters says helicopters are vital to rescue efforts in a state that’s a fifth of the size of the contiguous United States.

Before it was decided Helo 2 would be stored, Peters said countless people are saved annually.

“On a weekly basis, both the Anchorage- and Fairbanks-based helicopters respond to mission requests for search and rescue,” she said.

Chastain says it’s highly unlikely the department of public safety’s air support requirements could be met privately.

Private and public helicopters do still offer rescue services, including LifeMed Alaska and agencies with the military and parks service.

Alaska National Guard public affairs director Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead says the agency cannot replace law enforcement aircrafts.

“If there is a civilian capability, the Alaska National Guard cannot compete with it,” Olmstead said.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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