Members of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office's SWAT and Dive teams got more than their feet wet Friday during an annual training exercise.
More than 20 members of both teams and the agency's Marine Patrol unit gathered Friday at the H.E. Trask Boat Landing in Bluffton for exercises that included leaping from the open door of the S.C. Law Enforcement Division's Huey helicopter into the Colleton River.
In groups of about six, the officers boarded the chopper and were flown over the river before leaping about seven feet into the river. They were then plucked from the water by officers in a small pontoon boat and returned to shore.
Capt. Scott Johnson, the county's SWAT commander, said such exercises are vital for deputies expected to protect an area with so many waterways.
"Beaufort County is basically about 70 percent water," Johnson said. "Exercises like this teach the officer how to be inserted in the water to work up to a tactical or rescue situation. Law enforcement operates on land, but because of the waterways we have, we have to be able to respond. We can't help someone in distress if we don't work in and around water."
Johnson said the training Friday did not come without some risk to the participants.
"It is dangerous because there's so much protective equipment that we have to wear when we're in the water," Johnson said. "For an officer, that's part of his training. If he goes into the water wearing 50 pounds of equipment, if he's not trained to get out of that equipment, he's going to drown."
The helicopter exercise was part of a day-long training event that began with advanced swimming exercises early Friday on Parris Island and ended with nighttime anti-terrorism and search-and-rescue missions, according to the Sheriff's Office.
SWAT team members from the Richland County Sheriff's Office, Savannah-Chatham Metro Police Department and SLED also participated, Johnson said.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.