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NEWS | June 1, 2021

Alaska Air National Guard rescues two men after airplane crash on Mount Hawkins

By Maj. Chelsea Aspelund 176th Wing Public Affairs

Alaska Air National Guardsmen of the 176th Wing rescued a pilot and passenger May 31 after they were in an aircraft crash on Mount Hawkins in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve two days prior.

The National Park Service requested support from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at 2:40 p.m. May 29 after inclement weather precluded local rescue assets from reaching the aircraft, pilot and passenger.

The AK RCC coordinated with the 176th Wing to redirect rescue assets from an ongoing mission they were already involved with about 130 miles away. Two aircraft and two pararescue teams were in Gulkana on a weather hold for a different rescue mission at Mount Bona when they were tasked to respond to the plane crash at Mount Hawkins.

A 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II, each with 212th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel teams of pararescue personnel on board, were tasked to respond to the incident at Mount Hawkins due to the seriousness of a plane crash and the possibility that the weather was more clear at that location.

“Due to the high possibility of injuries, typical with aircraft accidents, I coordinated with the 176th Wing to redirect the assets already in Wrangell-St. Elias and to dispatch additional assets to Mt. Bona,” said Maj. Greg Ulrich, AK RCC search and rescue duty officer.

Mount Hawkins is about 56 miles from McCarthy in eastern Alaska, and about 80 miles from the Canadian border.

The Combat King II established an orbit overhead and radio relayed the best weather routes available to the Pave Hawk. Persistent low ceilings and high moisture content of the clouds delayed the helicopter from reaching the crash.

Rescue attempts continued throughout the night and into the next day with seven aircraft flying more than 74 hours and 18 sorties through inclement weather.

Just after 2 a.m. May 31, using night vision goggles, a Pave Hawk aircrew was able to safely reach the survivors and lower two pararescuemen to the site using a 120-foot hoist.

After initial medical assessment, the two persons with minor injuries were hoisted from the crash site and safely transported to Providence Regional Medical Center in Anchorage, Alaska. 

Rescue coordination for this effort began when the International Emergency Response Coordination Center notified the NPS Alaska Regional Communication Center of receiving ‘rescue needed’ messages from an InReach device from the vicinity of Mt. Hawkins in the Chugach Range.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft went off radar at approximately 2:11 p.m. on May 29 and had no flight plan on file.

The mission Guard assets had originally responded to at Klutlan Glacier near Mount Bona and about 60 miles east of McCarthy, remained ongoing throughout today for the rescue of a group of mountaineers. The group was rescued just before 5 p.m. in a collaborative effort between the AK RCC, 176th Wing rescue, the Alaska Army National Guard’s 207th Aviation Battalion and the National Park Service.

The AK RCC would like to remind all aviators flying in Alaska to file a flight plan, bring appropriate survival gear, and equip your aircraft with the modern 406MHz style emergency locator transmitter.  The lack of these safety features complicated the rescue mission and could have contributed to a different outcome.

For this rescue, the 210th RQS, 211th RQS, 212th RQS and AKRCC were awarded two saves.