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May 13, 2013 1:49 AM by Sam Salzwedel

Helicopter blows away attacking bee swarm

TUCSON - Pima County Search and Rescue Deputies used an unconventional method to save hikers from a bee attack Sunday.

A group of five was hiking near Oro Valley when a swarm attacked.

Deputies requested the medical helicopter to fly at a low level over the hikers to blow the bees away. It was not the first time they have had to do that.

"There's nothing written in the book that if you're getting attacked by bees to call a rescue helicopter and have them hover over your head 50 feet," Dep. Steve West said, "but we learned that in the past. And if it works, you do what you got to do to get the people out safely."

The attack sent three victims to the hospital, including a 6-year-old. They all seem to be doing well.

The 3 deputies on the scene were also stung.

"I was thinking, this is pretty horrible here," West said. "I got 4 or 5 bee stings, and then you look at the gentleman and the child that you're rescuing, and there's not an inch on their body that doesn't have one. That's when you got to put it in perspective."

Deputies learned to blow bees off with a helicopter when they rescued Robert Mackley in 2010.

"I thought it was for somebody to come down and pluck me off," Mackley said, "but then the bees kind of evacuated the area because of the air wash."

He was rock climbing near Mount Lemmon when a swarm attacked. He was stuck dangling off a cliff when rescuers arrived. He was stung 1,500 times and was hospitalized for days.

"It's just really not something to turn a blind eye to," Mackley said. "It's not something to mess around with."

He credits the Southern Arizona Rescue Association and the Sheriff's Department with saving his life.

"Everyone who ventures outdoors in Southern Arizona owes them some gratitude," he said. "Everyone owes them a big thanks."

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