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NEWS | May 10, 2021

Alaska Army National Guard rescues four boaters stranded on Kuskokwim River

By Edward Eagerton

A UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter aircrew with the Alaska Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, rescued four individuals and a dog this morning after they became stuck in a boat on the Kuskokwim River near Bethel, Alaska.


At approximately 1:00 a.m., the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center on JBER contacted the 207th AVN, stating that the Alaska State Troopers had asked for assistance with the rescue mission of four stranded boaters.


“The individuals were stuck on the river between Bethel and Kwethluk because of break-up,” explained Lt. Col. Michele Edwards, State Army Aviation Officer, Alaska Army National Guard. “There were areas of ice blocking them from going further.”


Edwards explained that the boaters had managed to get a call out asking for help, but that their phone had died at some point between the call for help and the subsequent rescue mission. Despite this, the Alaska State Troopers were able to provide the Rescue Coordination Center with an approximate grid coordinate.


“The boaters knew the general area of where they were, but did not have an exact location,” explained Edwards.


After accepting the mission, the 207th AVN aircrew launched a hoist-capable UH-60L Black Hawk medevac helicopter from the Alaska Army National Guard aviation facility in Bethel. The Black Hawk was deployed to Bethel approximately two weeks ago, specifically to provide a rescue asset for the area during the 2021 spring flood season, and in this case, the waters were already becoming problematic.


“The medevac crew located the boaters but decided the waters were running too high and too fast to hoist the medic directly down to the boat,” explained Edwards. “There was a lot of run off from the river, so they found a little strip of land that was near them and determined it was the best option to safely and quickly get the medic down to their location.”

Edwards explained that after the medic was hoisted down to the strip of nearby land—essentially a tiny island in the river—the medic then guided the boaters and their dog to his location and hoisted them up one by one. Once the individuals were hoisted into the helicopter, the medic assessed that the boaters were in the early stages of hypothermia.


“The medic began treating the individuals by giving them warm blankets and helped them rehydrate,” she said. “After they were all safely aboard, the crew flew them back to the Bethel hangar, where they were then released to the Alaska State Troopers.”


For this mission, the 207th AVN was awarded with four saves.


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