San Diego County Sheriff John Duffy introduced a new vision for a policing
program that would greatly enhance officer safety and service to the
community, a law enforcement helicopter patrol. The program
would provide aerial law enforcement support to all public safety
agencies in San Diego at no cost.
By 1971, ASTREA (Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies),
named after the Greek Goddess of Justice, was formed. The San
Diego County Sheriff's Department obtained a fleet of three Bell 47
helicopters and successfully established offices, maintenance
facilities and staff.
ASTREA's highest value was found in search and rescue platforms,
especially in remote areas and rugged terrain where it was difficult
to reach by ground vehicles. The crews developed techniques to
deliver rescue personnel into remote scenes and bring them and
victims to safety.
Within a few years, ASTREA acquired three more Bell 47 helicopters.
Law enforcement agencies began to rely heavily upon the unit for
their air support services.
Despite ASTREA's initial success, a major tragedy caused the unit to
reassess its helicopter fleet when a a nine-year-old boy became
separated from his family while visiting Palomar Mountain. The
unit found that their Bell 47 helicopters were limited in
performance during their search and rescue efforts of the boy.
It was difficult to identify objects at the 6,140-foot elevation.
The unit had to turn to the media for their helicopters which were
more powerful. The department realized a new aircraft that
could fulfill a variety of mission requirements was needed.
In 1983, ASTREA obtained two Hughes 500D helicopters. The
aircraft was faster and could seat more people, allowing the unit to
work in nearly impossible conditions. By the early 1990's, the
department got rid of its Bell 47 helicopters and obtained four more
Hughes 500 helicopters.
In 1972, a group of citizens complained about the helicopter noise. Sheriff Duffy responded by saying, "The helicopters you
hear can save your life or your property...we'd like to think of that
noise as the sound of security."