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After 50 years at LAX, Coast Guard helicopters have to find new home

Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Aviation Survival Technician 3rd Class Nick Gardner removes float bags for daily inspection at the Coast Guard Air Station at the Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2015. The station's lease with Los Angeles World Airports is expiring.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Starting in June, the Coast Guard Air Station will move 30 miles north to Point Mugu. The Naval Station in Ventura County will be their temporary home.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
A Coast Guard air patrol takes off from their base at the Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. "We’re able to help out where Baywatch and the Coast Guard surface assets can’t or would take too long to effect a rescue," Lieutenant Mike Freeman said.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
The Coast Guard Air Station will relocate to this air base at Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Aviation Maintenance Technician 2nd Class John Sandling conducts a daily fuel test on a rescue helicopter on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016 at the Coast Guard Air Station at the Los Angeles International Airport.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
A technician removes float bags for daily inspection at the Coast Guard Air Station at the Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2015.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
A Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline takes place on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. The move puts the station a more centrally located in their area of responsibility which runs from Dana Point in the south to Morro Bay in the north, about 350 miles of coastline.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
Lieutenant Mike Freeman takes part in a Coast Guard air patrol of the Los Angeles shoreline on Tuesday morning, March 15, 2016. After 50 years at LAX, the Coast Guard Air helicopters, mechanics and crewmembers are relocating to Point Mugu in Ventura County.
Lieutenant Mike Freeman says the Coast Guard air rescue team often gets called upon to do medical evacuations from Catalina Island and other places that helicopters can get to quickly, but would otherwise take much longer by boat.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC


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After 50 years in an out-of-the way hangar at LAX, one of L.A.'s largest active duty military units is leaving the county, pushed out by the airport's expansion plans. 

Coast Guard Air Station Los Angeles, located between two of the airport's main runways, is headed for Point Mugu in Ventura County, which officials say is actually a more central location for the 350 miles of coastline patrolled by the unit. 

"The maritime public is still going to have Coast Guard aviation and surface assets that are still going to respond to distress calls in the L.A. area," said Thomas Cooper, the squadron's commanding officer. 

Still, those who work at the base say they'll miss Los Angeles.

"It's been a great place to live, it's been a great place to operate out of" said Lieutenant Joe Heal,  one of the squadron's pilots. 

After so many years at LAX, Heal said the squadron has "a lot of partnerships, a lot of friendships" with the various civilian first responders in the area—like L.A.'s fire and police departments. He said they'll maintain those close relationships even after the move.

One a recent patrol flight, Lieutenant Mike Freeman took off from outside the hangar—which features a giant mural of a Coast Guard helicopter flying over the Hollywood sign—for a route spanning north to Point Mugu, west to Catalina, and then back up the coast to the air station. 

"We're looking for anyone in distress or any signs of suspicious activity on the beaches," Freeman said. 

At 300 feet above the ground, flying 150 miles an hour with the doors open, the patrol went by quickly. Whales, dolphins, boaters and even divers were easy to spot.

Freeman said the unit often gets called upon to do medical evacuations from Catalina Island and other places that the helicopters can get to quickly. 

"We’re able to help out where Baywatch and the Coast Guard surface assets can’t or would take too long to effect a rescue," he said. 

That won't change once the unit moves to its new home in Ventura County, he said.

The move puts them a little more centrally located in their area of responsibility which runs from Dana Point in the south to Morro Bay in the north. 

According to Coast Guard officers, their air crews fly about 150 to 200 rescue missions every year.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Morro Bay. KPCC regrets the error.