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NEWS | Aug. 18, 2023

Alaska Army National Guard rescues two hunters after plane crashes near Merrill Pass

By Sgt. Seth LaCount

The Alaska Army National Guard conducted a rescue of two hunters 15 miles north of Chakachamna Lake near Merrill Pass, August 16, 2023, after receiving the mission request from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.
The first call for assistance came to the AKRCC from a good Samaritan aviator who spotted the hunters’ downed aircraft while flying in the vicinity. The RCC opened an investigation and confirmed the incident after one of the hunters contacted the RCC via an InReach satellite phone.
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 at approximately 4:00 p.m. The crew included two pilots, a crew chief and flight medic.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bradley Jorgensen, pilot in command for the mission, said two hunters were taking off in a fixed wing aircraft when they abruptly crashed at the north side of a known landing strip in the area. The aircraft was no longer air-worthy and left the hunters stranded.
After the 90-mile flight west from JBER, the flight crew landed on the south side of the landing strip to evacuate the two men.
“Our flight medic Sgt. Matthew Tucker was the first Soldier on ground and conducted a routine medial check on the two hunters,” said Jorgensen. “No first aid was required.”
The air crew flew the hunters to the Birchwood Airport in Chugiak where Alaska State Troopers met them. Jorgensen said the rescue – to include departure and return – took about two hours.
Jorgensen said good visibility, accurate information and coordination from the RCC all contributed to the mission’s success.
“Our coordination with the RCC has become streamlined in a way that makes these missions routine and effective,” said Jorgensen. “The beauty of the InReach device is it allows us to pinpoint individuals and their exact location with little effort and allows us to respond quickly.”