JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Alaska Army National Guard’s G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, and medical personnel from the Fairbanks Fire Department rescued a man in medical distress ten miles southwest of Anderson, Alaska, Jan. 2.
Alaska Air National Guard Maj. Kevin Kelly, Alaska Rescue Coordination Center deputy director, said the Alaska State Troopers requested support from the AKRCC in transporting a distressed man during severe weather. The AST required assistance from the AKARNG because of their capabilities in flying in high winds using night vision goggles.
The man’s residence is accessible only through a trail commonly traversed by way of a snow machine, with his own rendered inoperable by the freezing temperatures. Two days without power, failing generators and an extreme snow storm compounded to severely inhibit his ability to utilize his oxygen tank supply or access medical care.
“Even if someone could get to him on the ground, with the time it would have taken to travel, he would have been past medical help,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Lewis, one of the UH-60L Black Hawk pilots on the mission.
First Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment accepted the mission and tasked it to a UH-60L Black Hawk crew from Det. 2, G Co, 2-211th with a complement of a paramedic and emergency medical technician from the Fairbanks Fire Department. At 6 p.m., the crew departed from Ladd Army Airfield at Fort Wainwright.
With no clear landing zone by the home, the aircraft and crew had to land a quarter of a mile away. The accompanying medical personnel made their way to the home utilizing snow shoes and a sled for equipment. In low light, they navigated a wilderness terrain of trees, vegetation, and snow loads, extending the trek to one mile.
“It truly was a challenge unique to Alaska,” said Lewis. “The area is extremely remote with temperatures well below freezing. Our knowledge base as Alaska National Guardsmen enabled us to respond to the extreme conditions as prepared as possible.”
Once at the residence, the medical personnel were able to stabilize and prepare the man for transport to a medical facility. While the Black Hawk and aircrew were refueling at the Fairbanks International Airport, the medical personnel cleared an area of trees enabling the Black Hawk to land closer to the home.
The crew immediately departed and transported the man to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital where he was released to civilian medical professionals.
Lewis recognizes that the success of the mission depended on a well-executed team effort to reach and save the man in distress.
“Without all players this, very possibly, would not have worked out,” said Lewis. “I would especially like to thank the [Fairbanks Fire Department medical professionals] for the tremendous amount of work they did on the ground to make this possible.”
For this mission, the AKRCC, 207th AVN and the Fairbanks Fire Department were awarded one save.