Volunteer Air Patrol Group Restarts Flights This Month
One of only a handful of volunteer civil air patrol teams in the country, based in Ocean County, is set to take flight just before the Memorial Day Weekend.
The Ocean Air Support Squadron, also known as the "The Ocean Black Sheep", restarts its Sunset Patrols from the Robert J. Miller Airpark in Berkeley Township the weekend of May 15th.
Squadron Public Information Officer Mike Maino says their most rewarding function is in assisting first responders in spotting distressed boaters or in finding missing accident victims in remote locations of the Pinelands or Barnegat Bay watershed. Maino recall a time when one of their team members located a distressed lone jet skier who was reported missing for about four hours. "We were asked to go look in the Pines, the Brigantine flats by the Little Egg Harbor Inlet down there and coming out, the crew saw somebody waving at them on the flat areas, the mud flats and they came down low. We spotted her and contacted Coast Guard Helicopters. They were able to pick her up but in the meantime, they're looking at her and she's covered with mud from head to toe. We found out later on, that the greenhead flies were attacking her from the time that she was there. So her packing mud all over her face sort of helped her from getting bitten"
Maino says they basically serve as the eye in the sky for the Ocean County Sheriff's Department who provides Fuel and oil for the squadron's 13 privately-owned planes since 2001. "We have two flights that leave the airport and what we're looking for are boaters that are in distress or any pollution sources that are out there, anything that any municipality might have an interest in having us put eyes on."
He says Black Sheep strives to have our teams in the air within 30 minutes of the initial notification but reiterates their role as a support squadron. "We're there in the event the State Police helicopters or the Coast Guard helicopters are not able to get their. So we sort of supplement them. Once they come on scene, we take a back seat."
Maino says the Sunset Patrols take off daily at 6 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening and usually spend anywhere from 1 and a half to two hours checking on 14 checkpoints that cover Ocean County's entire coastline from the Manasquan Inlet to the Little Egg Harbor Inlet, the Bay area, the Toms River, the Oyster Creek Nuclear Power Plant and when requested, they'll put eyes on the Joint Base McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst including the firing range in Eagleswood.
Maino says the Sunset Patrols continue until September 15th but in the winter, they also conduct survey flights over the Pinelands.
When asked why they volunteer? Maino says they "basically reach out to help people. It's amazing when you can take off on an evening flight, fly around, do good for the community see things, see porpoises and schools of fish offshore, come back and land eight hundred feet, look at the setting sun. It's just something that's awe inspiring."
Ocean Air Support Squadron, Inc. , P.O. Box 178, Beachwood, N.J. 08722 (732) 244-2095