Sheriff's Pilot

Michelle Simoes

Air Unit will return to action after tragic crash

Air Boudreaux will soon be back in service.

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux welcomed five new employees to the Sheriff’s Department on Monday, including the new sheriff’s pilot, Michelle Simoes. She will fly the Sheriff’s airplane that will arrive in May.

Simoes thanked Boudreaux for giving her the opportunity to get the department’s Aviation Unit back up and flying following the tragic plane crash of Sheriff One on Feb. 10.

Killed in the crash were Sheriff’s Pilot James Chavez and Tactical Flight Officer Scott Ballantyne.

Simoes said she knew Chavez well. In fact, he trained her to fly the two-seater light sport aircraft, the same airplane chosen first by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and later by the Kings County Sheriff’s Office.

“James was a fantastic pilot,” she said. “I’m honored to fill those shoes.”

For Boudreaux, hiring Simoes helps the Sheriff’s Office heal by moving forward with the Aviation Program after losing Chavez and Ballantyne in the crash near Springville. 

“It’s a big day for us to heal and yet to remember those we lost,” he said. “Getting the plane back in the air is good for us.”

Simoes’ role as a sheriff’s pilot is to support deputies on the ground. Communication is vital between the ground and the officers in the airplane.

“I’m looking forward to supporting the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and getting the new plane off the ground,” she said.

The airplane provides another tool for law enforcement in an effort to keep the community safe. According to a press release, the “Eyes in the Sky” help deputies on the ground locate criminals and find lost children and at-risk adults, as well as patrol the county’s farmlands looking for criminals.

Simoes, 48, was born and raised in Visalia. She lives in Tipton with her husband, They have a 23-year-old son.

Before Simoes became a pilot, she helped run the family business and was a homemaker.

Her desire to fly was sparked when her younger sister won a free introductory flight lesson. Simoes said she thought she would like to fly herself. Later, she found a flight instructor and began her own lessons while her son was in school in 2004.

“I threw myself into my new passion,” she said.

She obtained her private, commercial, instrument, multi-flight dispatcher and airline transportation pilot certifications.

One of her inspirations to fly was the late Amelia Earhart, an American aviation pioneer. Simoes said she relates to this quote from Earhart: “I don’t know how far I can go, so I will go until I can’t go any farther.”

When Simoes had the opportunity to join the Kings County Sheriff’s Air Support Unit on a volunteer basis, she jumped at the chance. She helped start the aviation program there in early 2015 and was one of the pilots who flew the new plane to Hanford.

Also sworn in on Monday were inmate programs specialist Elena Ledezma, emergency dispatcher Carlos Inacio, and correctional deputies Enrique Diaz and Kenrick Silvas.

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