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Pilot offers helicopter to law enforcement free of charge

Pilot offers helicopter to law enforcement free of charge

FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. - The Fremont County Sheriff's Office thanked a local pilot for his generosity and skill on Friday.

Will Sanders operates Royal Gorge Helitours. Sanders main job is showing tourists a bird's-eye view of Pikes Peak and the Royal Gorge. He's a volunteer helicopter pilot for Southern Colorado law enforcement agencies on the side.

Sanders was a Colorado State Trooper for 13 years. He served as a pilot in the force for seven of those years. Sanders left the force, but he never left the line of duty.

He volunteers his skills and his helicopter to law enforcement agencies in need. 

"It definitely brings back memories, I've done it many times. I enjoy it because I'm back helping," said Sanders. "I like to use my expertise again."

Sanders airlifted crews into small fires and helped with search-and-rescue efforts. On Tuesday, he set up an aerial perimeter to keep two burglary suspects at large in Fremont County in a contained area.

"What he did in this latest incident it was invaluable," said Fremont County Sheriff Jim Beicker. "It was instrumental in helping keep those people in an area and I can't thank him enough for providing that resource."

Beicker said the two suspects in the man-hunt, Raymond and Kimberly Lannigan, told law enforcement the helicopter's presence in the sky deterred them from trying to run.

Helicopters played a critical role in firefights across the state. However, aircraft come at a hefty price tag. Beicker said law enforcement agencies are forced to make a choice between money and public safety.

"How do you look a victim of a search and rescue operation and say, 'I couldn't afford to airlift you,'" said Beicker. "You don't want to manage like that but it's a reality. When a community member like (Sanders) steps up and offers something like that, I just can't thank him enough."

It costs Sanders $400 for every hour he spends in his helicopter in the air. As former law enforcement, Sanders recognizes this is an expense agencies can't afford. He never asks for money in return.

"It's in everyone's benefit so we would like to help out as much as possible," said Sanders. "It's free. We give it away. We are blessed to have a helicopter."

Sanders wants to organize a fundraiser in the future to help raise funds so he can utilize his helicopter to help more agencies.

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