ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – Officials say responding to rural parts of the state, like Cedar City or Zion National Park can be challenging. The Department of Public Safety and Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) along with other leaders in Southern Utah are working to improve response times for remote locations by adding a new helicopter in St. George.

UHP is adding a third helicopter to its fleet and will now have one in southern Utah this summer after officials say they’ve only operated two over the years out of Salt Lake City.

“A few years back we received funding from the legislature and bought a new one, but we’ve been working with what is now a 25-year-old helicopter as our secondary,” says Major Beau Mason with UHP.

Mason says the two newest choppers are being put together in California and will be equipped with new technology.

“July 1st or shortly after, depending on when everything is completed- facilities and the helicopter- we should be able to operate, we’ll have two full-time pilots, or tactical flight officers (TFOs) and a mechanic based out of St. George,” he says.

Mason says this is all to improve search and rescue and have two bases on opposite ends of the state to lessen response times.

“Having that helicopter being able to lift off and be in Cedar City or Zion in a matter of 15-20 minutes from the time they get airborne, in comparison to two hours that they are now from Salt Lake, so it will be a huge game-changer,” he says.

Mason says it also allows officials to work with the varying climate rather than against it.

“If Salt Lake gets snowed in, historically we haven’t been able to fly missions, even if it was in St. George or Moab, so having them at opposite ends of the state will increase capacity,” he says.

Iron County Sheriff, Ken Carpenter says this will be a great asset, especially for critical incidents like the one officials saw over the weekend.