JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The Alaska Army National Guard’s (AKARNG) 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, rescued an injured skier and snowmachiner with a UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter in separate incidents in Hatcher Pass March 12.
The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (AKRCC) received the initial requests for help from the Alaska State Troopers.
Master Sgt. David Alborne, senior controller in the AKRCC, reported the location of the first rescue mission was inaccessible by civilian medevac and the terrain required the AKARNG’s ski-equipped aircraft.
“In an area like that, there’s also the consideration of possibly needing a hoist when the crew gets there,” said Alborne.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 J.D. Miller, the pilot in command, said the flight was in “flat light,” with the terrain lacking definition, adding another challenge to locating a person in the mountainous area. He said he appreciates the skier being equipped for emergencies and having a two-way GPS communication device.
“The skier saw the situation very realistically and reacted responsibly,” said Miller. “They went out with a communication device and were prepared to stay overnight. Once they saw the weather turn, they took shelter.”
At approximately 9 a.m., the Black Hawk and crew reached the skier at the Southern Holden Hut in Hatcher Pass. The injured skier was prepared for transport and released to the Mat-Su Regional Medical Center at 9:30 a.m.
A couple of hours later, at 11:15 a.m., Alaska State Troopers asked the AKRCC for help rescuing a severely injured snowmachiner in Hatcher Pass. The conditions once again required a ski-equipped aircraft.
“For this rescue, we knew very early on that ground recovery would not be possible,” said Alborne. “A park ranger with the snowmachiners had already determined that the terrain was too technical and the person’s injuries too serious.”
The snowmachiners, still within cellphone range, were able to send photos of their location and the injured individual. According to Miller, the photos enabled the crew to formulate a more precise plan.
The Guard crew dropped off a paramedic from the Black Hawk 15 yards away and hovered overhead, allowing the paramedic, Sgt. 1st Class Damion Minchaca, to administer medical treatment without disturbance from the helicopter’s rotor wash. In that time, the park ranger and the two uninjured snowmachiners made a trail of packed snow, leveling out a path to transfer the patient to the landing zone.
Once stabilized, the patient was flown to the Providence Alaska Medical Center and released to civilian medical professionals at 1:51 p.m.
For the missions, the 207th Aviation Regiment and AKRCC received credit for two saves.