JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
The Alaska Army National Guard conducted a mid-mountain, hoist rescue of an injured backcountry skier near Girdwood, April 19, 2023, after receiving the mission request from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.
Air crew assigned to Golf Company, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion accepted the mission and departed from Bryant Army Airfield on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in a hoist-capable HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter specially designed for medical evacuations.
Chief Warrant Officer 3 JD Miller, pilot in command for the mission, said four backcountry skiers were traversing a ridgeline above Virgin Creek when an avalanche broke loose pulling one skier down the mountainside. Miller estimated the skier slid 800 to 1000 feet, finally coming to rest on a 30-degree slope.
The remaining three skiers skied down to their friend to begin first aid and called for help using a satellite communications device, he said. The Alaska State Troopers received the notification and contacted the AKRCC for assistance.
After the 14-minute flight from JBER, the hoist operator Staff Sgt. Sonny Cooper lowered flight medic, Sgt. Matthew Tucker, and rescue hoist operator, Sgt. 1st Class Brad McKenzie, down to the group of skiers on a tandem hoist.
“I inserted Tucker and McKenzie down to the injury, and they took shovels and a picket with them to use an anchor for the litter,” said Cooper.
Tucker said he immediately began rendering aid to the patient while McKenzie and the remaining skiers began clearing a safe workspace to keep anyone from sliding further down the mountain.
Once the team loaded the patient into the litter, Cooper hoisted it up to the helicopter while McKenzie used a separate line from the ground to keep the litter from spinning out of control during the ascent.
Miller said the rescue – to include the rescue crew insertion, first aid, and hoisting the patient and crew back into the helicopter – took about 30 minutes.
The air crew flew the patient to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage where he was released to medical providers.
Miller said good visibility, accurate information from the rescue site and focused, scenario-driven training all contributed to the mission’s success.
“We knew right off the bat exactly what we needed to do,” said Cooper. “We knew what equipment we needed. We knew the sequence of events, and all of us had trained together on this specific scenario. It left very little to have to figure out on scene.”