Tulare County swears in new sheriff's pilot

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Michelle Simoes is a veteran pilot and Visalia born and raised. After years of being a full-time mom and doing office work, she started taking flight lessons in 2004 and has flying ever since. (KFSN)

It's been two months since Tulare County lost two of their own two of their finest.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office had eyes in the sky in Sheriff One, featuring Deputy Scott Ballantyne and pilot James Chavez. There are still no answers as to why the plane went down.

But the department must move forward, and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux says that starts with another plane and someone who can fly it.

"I'm absolutely honored to fill those shoes," said Michelle Simoes.

Simoes is a veteran pilot and Visalia born and raised. Now, after years of being a full-time mom and doing office work, she started taking flight lessons in 2004.

Most recently she flew the same kind of plane as Sheriff One in Kings County. It's where she met James Chavez, who trained all Kings County Sheriff's Office pilots.

Simoes says Chavez was a fantastic pilot himself.

"Not only is she representing James as a friend and also a comrade, but she's very well versed in the operation of the plane, trained by James," Boudreaux said.

Simoes can't wait to start in her new role and as for the plane, she feels perfectly safe in it.

"I think the airplane is very secure," Simoes said. I think it's a wonderful thing to fly for this. With the cost and efficiency of it, it couldn't be a better aircraft."

Monday, she was sworn in, just as Chavez was before her.

The plane will be picked up soon, and the sheriff's office will have eyes in the sky again. This plane will also have a deputy observer, who will be hired soon.

The sheriff says he's already received a tremendous amount of interest in that position and a replacement plane for Sheriff One should be in the air by next year.
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