Sgt. Doyle Thorne
In December 1988, the Utah Department of Public Safety – Aero Bureau added a helicopter to their fleet. A used TH-55 training helicopter was purchased. Utah Highway Patrol Sergeant Doyle R. Thorne had flown CH-46 “Sea Knight” helicopters with the United States Marine Corp. in Vietnam. Sergeant Thorne enthusiastically accepted a transfer to the Aero Bureau to oversee the implementation of rotary-wing aircraft program within the Aero Bureau.
The TH-55 engine is only capable of producing 180 horsepower, which proved to be underpowered for operating at the high altitudes found in Utah. During June 1989, Sergeant Thorne and Duchesne County Deputy Sheriff Jerry Foote were flying a marijuana eradication operation in Duchesne County. While operating near the maximum ceiling for the aircraft, during hot summer weather, and flying at low levels to observe possible marijuana plants, they got caught in a micro-burst of wind. The TH-55 crashed into a hillside dotted with cedar trees. One of the trees completely penetrated the cockpit floor, lodging between Sergeant Thorne and Deputy Foote. The spinning rotor blades shredded the surrounding cedar trees. The helicopter was totaled. Both officers were injured, but managed to walk away from the accident.
The Utah Department of Public Safety realized the value of a helicopter and the need for a more powerful aircraft. The problem was obtaining funding for a quality helicopter. The problem was solved after two years of negotiation by Senator Jake Garn with the U. S. Department of Defense and with the help of Governor Norman H. Bangerter. In August 1991, the Utah Department of Public Safety – Aero Bureau signed a “free lease” with the Department of Defense for two Hughes OH-6 “Cayuse,” observation helicopters. Utah was allotted the helicopters to help with drug interdiction work. The first OH-6 was placed into service on October 21, 1991.
These aircraft proved to be a valuable addition to the Aero Bureau.The OH-6 turbine engine produces 317 horsepower and has a maximum ceiling of 10,000 feet. OH-6 helicopters were used by the U. S. military for aerial observation in Vietnam. DPS
used them for aerial surveillance of drug trafficking activity and for observation during major drug arrest operations. They have also been used to monitor gang activity, assist on high speed chases, provide aerial surveillance during hazardous material fires and explosions, search for wanted suspects and for search and rescue operations. The aircraft were also available for use in natural disasters where usual access routes have been disrupted.
From October 1991 to July 1994, Sergeant Thorne flew 44 missions in fixed-wing aircraft and 130 missions in rotary-wing aircraft. He provided assistance to agencies throughout Utah. During these years, Sergeant Thorne flew numerous search and rescue missions, often in dangerous terrain and with great risk to himself. Sergeant Thorne was extremely dedicated and always willing to help. The following incidents are but a few examples of his daily routine.
On March 13, 1994, Sergeant Doyle Thorne and observer Lieutenant Mitch Ingersoll were assisting the Utah County Sheriff’s Office in locating two hikers lost for over 24 hours in the mountains above Bridle Vail Falls in Provo Canyon. At 8:20 am, Ingersoll observed one of the hikers on the side of a cliff. Sergeant Thorne then shuttled three search and rescue personnel in separate trips to a ledge close to where the hiker had been observed. The searchers were able to locate both hikers and determine that they were not injured or disabled. The inexperienced hikers had become trapped when they ventured beyond their abilities. Sergeant Thorne then shuttled both the rescuers and the hikers from the mountain ledge to the parking lot at Bridal Veil Falls.
On March 26, 1994, Sergeant Thorne assisted officers in Tooele County following a hit and run accident and a high speed chase. The suspect vehicle had eluded officers by driving into the mountains near Stansbury Park. Doyle’s observer was Trooper Gregory Kelsey. Upon the approach of the helicopter, the suspect must have realized that his efforts to flee were futile. At this point, the suspect took his own life with a single gunshot to the head.
On April 20, 1994, Sergeant Thorne responded to assist Cache County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue. Three Utah State University students were missing in the mountains north of Hardware Ranch. Their vehicle was located just prior to dark. Sergeant Thorne followed their tracks for eight miles to a ridge overlooking Bear Lake. The three students had not been prepared for the low temperatures found at the 9,400 foot ridge and were suffering from exposure. Sergeant Thorne made several trips, shuttling these young but wiser victims to safety.
Sergeant Thorne was always looking for ways to improve the Aero Bureau. It is often difficult to locate individuals during searches for prison escapees, wanted suspects, and lost children. Wanted suspects hide when a helicopter approaches. Children often fall asleep in an area protected from the elements. Sergeant Thorne sought funding for a Forward Looking Infrared system (FLIR). In 1993, the Department of Public Safety acquired a used “FLIR” from Las Vegas Metro Police and installed it on one of the OH-6 helicopters. With this system, a person can be seen, even in heavy cover, especially on cold days.