The inventors of a device that helped a Sheriff’s Department helicopter team rescue a man in an icy lake said the daring mission was the first time their device was used in those conditions, and said the two decades they spent developing it were worth every minute.
The rescue mission took place Sunday on Big Laguna Lake.
Video taken from the shore shows a man attempting to ski across the frozen-over lake. Then, the ice sheet beneath him cracks and he is nearly swallowed whole.
A San Diego County sheriff's helicopter arrived on the scene in minutes and spotted the skier struggling to keep his head above water in the middle of the lake.
The helicopter landed briefly so deputies could rig a special device invented by two San Diego brothers.
The Quick Collar device automatically inflates when it hits water. The helicopter crew hovering above lowered the Quick Collar down to the struggling skier and pulled him about 75 yards to shore.
Quick Collar designer Kenney Pierce grew up in San Diego but now lives in Denver, Colorado to take care of his mother. On Monday he got a call that elated him.
“I’m so thrilled that it saved somebody’s life,” Pierce said. “I can’t even explain how thrilled I am.”
Pierce and his brother started creating the device 20 years ago and finally got it into production about a decade ago. Pierce said he worked with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to test it out 10 years ago. He said Monday was the first instance he’s heard of where it was needed.
“It’s been a long time coming but I knew that it would happen,” he said. “I just didn’t know when and it took 10 years but it was totally worth waiting for.”
Pierce likens the Quick Collar to a “kid’s floatation” device, but it’s longer and it has an automatic cO2 button that starts to inflate as soon as it hits the water.
As it inflates, the collar comes out and victims can either grab onto it using upper body strength or wrap it over their head and arms and be lifted them up. Pierce said the device can lift 3,000 pounds multiple times and not wear out.
“You can be confident it will work every time,” Pierce said.
He said he started to design the device because he wanted to save people.
“I have been a lifeguard and I’ve watched people drown at the cove and other places and that’s what drives me. I don’t care about the money,” he said.
Pierce also wants to credit and thank the SDSO and, specifically, Sgt. Don Parker. Sgt. Parker was a 25-year veteran of the department and spent eight years coordinating the search and rescue team. Sgt. Parker died one year ago on February 14, 2018 from a nine-month battle with a rare form of brain cancer. Pierce credits Sgt. Parker for his trust in his invention and thus, saving the man’s life.
The helicopter crew consisted of Deputy Bill Liniewicz Jr. at the controls and Deputy Michael Davis, a Tactical Flight Officer. The team told NBC 7 they had never performed an ice rescue before. As Liniewicz piloted the chopper, Davis yelled instructions to the victim of how to put the Quick Collar on.
They said the device worked exactly how it was supposed to.
“In this situation, he definitely would have died; and that is just huge, that’s huge. I am still trying to get my arms around it,” Deputy Liniewicz said.