NEWS | Sept. 16, 2021

Alaska Army National Guard rescue stranded hunter near Cottonwood Creek

By 1st Lt. Balinda O’Neal Dresel, Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

Medevac aircrew from the Alaska Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, provided helicopter medical evacuation to a hunter stranded on a 3-by-3 ledge near Cottonwood Creek, 40 miles north east of Anchorage, down the Knick River Valley, Sept 15.
 
The man was unable to move up or down on the rough terrain with a 40 to 50-degree slope and required a high angle, high altitude hoist at 5,850 feet elevation.
 
The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson was notified by the Alaska State Troopers at approximately 1:55 p.m. Wednesday asking for assistance with the rescue mission. The initial request for support was communicated via InReach SOS activation by the hunter, which notified AST.

After accepting the mission, an Army National Guard UH-60M Black Hawk medevac helicopter and crew from Detachment 2, G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, departed Bryant Army Airfield at JBER around 3:30 p.m.
 
The AKRCC, manned with full-time rescue controllers in the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing at JBER, provided the rescue aircrew with the hunter’s grid coordinates, directing the Black Hawk crew to the man’s location.
 
“We couldn’t spot him at first because he was camouflaged in hunting gear,” said Staff Sgt. Damion Minchaca, a flight paramedic with Det. 2, G-Co, 2-211th AVN, who explained they made two passes over the location before finally spotting the man. “He used quick thinking, turning his camouflage jacket inside out to signal us down with the inside fleece’s bright orange color showing.”

Minchaca said that despite the conditions it was a perfect hoist.
 
“Without knowing how the wind was going to push me off the mountain when lowered the hoist operator was able to time it just right putting me right on top of the man,” said Minchaca, adding that the entire team allowed for smooth success of the mission. “There wasn’t enough room for both of us to stand on the ledge and everything I touched dissipated.”
 
Minchaca donned the man with an air rescue vest and prepared him to be hoisted into the helicopter. After they were safely aboard, the crew flew to the Palmer airport where they released the man to the AST.

“It’s vital to have some type of signaling device to break up the terrain when you are off the grid in the wilderness,” said Minchaca. “The decision to have the InReach expedited the rescue but the man’s quick thinking to signal us was vital to our success.”

For the mission, the 207th Aviation and AKRCC were awarded with one save.