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Alabama authorities increase safety on Gulf Coast beaches with air patrols and lifeguards
Alabama authorities increase safety on Gulf Coast beaches with air patrols and lifeguards

ORANGE BEACH, Alabama – This week we saw how dangerous the Gulf region can be when the double red flag flew for several days.

Surf rip currents are the number one cause of death on the Gulf Coast.

The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s Aviation Unit worked with Gulf Shores and Orange Beach on Thursday to make beach safety a top priority.

This was the third year that the agencies took part in the lifeguard flights.

“We do at least three patrols a day along the coast from Florabama to Fort Morgan,” said Joethan Phillips, Gulf Shores’ beach safety director. “And we look for people and circle around them.”

“It is comforting to know that there are people up here who could help us if we were in need,” he added.

The helicopter is based in Shelby Lake. When it takes off, it monitors Baldwin County’s Gulf – nearly 32 miles of shoreline.

Brett Leslinger is the director of beach safety at Orange Beach. He says this measure benefits not only swimmers, but lifeguards as well.

“The helicopter does much more than just rescue swimmers,” he said. “It is an aerial observation platform for lifeguards from which we can monitor swimming and the activities of people in the water.”

In an emergency, the helicopter flies to the scene and takes over the lifeguards on board.

WEAR News was able to see the teams in action on Thursday.

“When they start, they already have their flippers on and a hose in their hand,” said Leslinger. “They make contact with the victim and then swim them to shore.”

This year, State Senator Chris Elliot helped secure over $400,000 in ALEA’s state budget, funding that will allow the helicopter to fly more frequently.

“I am very pleased that we are receiving additional funding for additional flights to probably at least triple the amount of time that this helicopter stays in the air to provide public safety services not only to our residents but of course to our visitors,” Elliot said.

Leslinger says the additional funding will help them staff these flights for up to 45 days, rather than just on holiday weekends and other special occasions. He says this furthers their goal of promoting water and beach safety.

“This is a great thing for our coast,” Leslinger said. “We can ensure the safety of swimmers and add it to our arsenal for rescuing people.”

This is the third year the agencies have collaborated on the lifeguard flights.

By Aurora