Helicopter unit reassigned, leaves Marcellus, Pa. region

    The reassignment of a State Police helicopter unit from Lycoming County has some worrying that northern Pennsylvania will be underserved by first responders.

    The Mountoursville airport’s low elevation made it the perfect place for a chopper to slip out under cloud cover and fly down to the ground around the mountains and bluffs, says David Frey, a former state police helicopter pilot who was stationed there for 25 years.

    It’s called running the valleys, and in an emergency, the time it saves is crucial, he said.

    “We were able to use the terrain to move throughout that region and we discovered we could go just about everywhere,” Frey said.

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    So much so, that Frey says that his old aviation unit could often get to places well before the pilots based in Hazleton, Luzerne County, to the southeast.

    But that’s where the State Police recently moved Frey’s old unit.

    A spokeswoman says the agency doesn’t have enough personnel to staff the Lycoming County location, and its lease was up at the end of December.

    State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle tried and failed to reverse the move.

    Now, they warn that getting rid of the Lycoming County state police helicopter has left the northern tier without a nearby air assist, at a time when the region is booming due to increased natural gas drilling.

    “It’s not just about a helicopter at the Montoursville airport, even though that helicopter does serve a large portion of rural Pennsylvania,” said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming. “It’s also about how these policies are decided.”

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