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Hovercrafts join Border Patrol fleet

May 23, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

CALEXICO — U.S. Border Patrol agents soon will be using two new hovercrafts to patrol Imperial Valley canals and rivers.

"Before, we were driving along a canal's banks and now we are going to be in it," said Border Patrol spokesman Al Nieto.

In addition to the new watercraft — which Border Patrol agents have already declared "cool" following test runs at Sunbeam Lake — the Border Patrol will be stepping up aerial surveillance by employing a new helicopter and extending the test run of non-lethal pepperball guns.

The new measures are all part of a nationwide effort to make the borders as safe as possible while almost daily alerts out of Washington, D.C., warn of an imminent terrorist attack.

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Line agents from the Calexico Border Patrol station and the elite Border Search Trauma and Rescue agents will get to put in for hovercraft duty. The Border Patrol will likely create a special hovercraft unit, Nieto said.

To make sure the craft are utilized to their potential, Nieto said the Border Patrol will begin studying migration patterns to pinpoint areas where there are the biggest risks of drowning.

The hovercraft can seat one or two persons comfortably with capacity for four or five.

At 5 today one of the new hovercraft will be displayed at a press conference for the commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, James Ziglar.

Talking about the pepperball guns — which also will be on display — Nieto said they are similar to paintball guns. With a range of 20-40 feet, agents will be able to fire pepperballs that will explode on contact and release pepper spray.

Agents have thoroughly tested the new weapons.

"A couple hits to the chest will put you on your knees," Nieto said.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or aclaverie@aol.com

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