airboat boosts law enforcement


By Brian Gehring | Bismarck Tribune
Published Monday, March 29, 2010

A new piece of equipment to the rolling stock of the Mercer and McLean sheriff’s departments will likely turn some heads. Through a federal Department of Justice grant, the two agencies last week took delivery of a 3,500-pound, 630-horsepower airboat.

Mercer CountyPanoramio

Mercer and McLean counties received an airboat through a federal Department of Justice grant. Mercer County deputies trained on the boat last week on the Missouri River.

Mercer County Sheriff Dean Danzeisen said the $787,000 grant covers the cost of the boat, training, salaries and benefits for two years. Danzeisen said the boat will be shared jointly by the Mercer-McLean combined drug task force and will be used mainly for drug enforcement but can be used for public safety situations as well. He said with the changing landscape of the drug trade, manufacturers can operate mobile drug labs in remote areas.

“We do get calls of possible drug activity in rural areas where we can’t access them with conventional vehicles,” Danzeisen said. Both he and McLean County Sheriff Don Charging said one of the secondary roles of the airboat would be that of a search and rescue vehicle. Danzeisen said Mercer County damaged its Zodiac type of rescue boat during last year’s flooding in Beulah when the fabric on the craft’s pontoons was punctured by a submerged fence. More than 30 Beulah residents were evacuated by boat during that flooding.

The airboat, manufactured by American Airboat Corp. of Orange, Texas, is made of lightweight aluminum with a convertible tarp cab and a teflon-coated bottom. It can travel more than 70 mph on water and faster on ice. Danzeisen said with the Corvette engine, the boat can travel over dry land, ice, rocks — almost anything. “It’s the same boat the U.S. Coast Guard uses,” he said.

Charging said that, in McLean County, there are more than 500 square miles of river and lakes to patrol and cover in the event of an emergency. “Unfortunately, there will be instances where it will be needed,” he said, adding that “this will be an invaluable resource during emergency situations.” McLean County also has a 22-foot Boston Whaler rescue boat stationed in Garrison and a small flat-bottom boat in Washburn. Danzeisen said members of his department were training last week on the Missouri River and the airboat was able to negotiate the water, ice, sandbars, shorelines and floating debris in the water. He said the boat can comfortably fit five people inside and more if necessary.

Danzeisen said the addition of the airboat also will reduce the danger for law enforcement and search and rescue personnel. Several years ago, members of a dive team and the Mercer County search and rescue team spent several weeks searching for two missing ice fishermen. The search was complicated because of bad ice caused by methane gas percolating up from the bottom of the lake.

“With the airboat, we will be able to check areas without putting our people in danger,” Danzeisen said.

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