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Behind the Badge: Chelsea Tugaw becomes first female search and rescue pilot

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A new pilot is flying the state’s emergency helicopter, unlike anyone who’s done it before. The Utah Department of Public safety has now hired its first female pilot.

She’s hoping she’s the first of many to come, in this edition of Behind the Badge.

Helicopter Pilot Chelsea Tugaw is taking Utah’s Department of Public Safety to new heights.

“Every flight is different that’s what I love about it,” says Pilot Chelsea Tugaw, with the Utah Dept. of Public Safety Aero Bureau.

She was just hired last November, as the first female pilot for the state’s Aero Bureau.  

“I think I can speak for the majority of women in any male-dominated career field, that our main goal is just to show up and you know, do our job as best we can,” she explains.

Tugaw flies the state helicopter, most often called to help search and rescue crews find lost or injured hikers and carry them back to safety.

Recently she was on a flight to help someone in Southern Utah who fell roughly 50 feet repelling in Escalante, and it required some precision flying.

“We went and hoisted him out of there it was pretty technical because you pretty much had to put a rescue specialist down through the hole and pull him out of there. It was unique for me because it was so technical,” shares Tugaw.  

Making sure she gets everything just right, Tugaw knows she is charting a flight path for other women who may sit in her seat in the future.

“I just want to be sure to leave a good impression anywhere I go,” she shares. “Just making sure that there’s never any hesitancy to hire any females again.”

So far she fits right in. However, Tugaw tells ABC4 News being a pilot wasn’t always on her radar. She was going to school at the University of Utah to be an orthodontist. One day serving in the Air Force, she took a ride in a helicopter and got hooked.

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