JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
Alaska Air National Guardsmen of the 176th Wing assisted the National Park Service in rescuing an injured climber June 12 on Denali, North America’s highest mountain peak.
The mission opened in response to a request for assistance from the National Park Service to the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center. The injured climber’s party used a satellite communication device to call for help after being injured in a fall.
Tucker Chenoweth, South District Ranger, Denali National Park, said a Ranger team, including an embedded pararescuemen (PJ) from 212th Rescue Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Matt Steible, provided the climber immediate care.
“We have a Ranger team at High Camp that includes a PJ from 212th,” he said. “They were able to get out and access the patient, who was a good quarter mile, half mile from camp, and they were able to stabilize the patient.”
Chenoweth said NPS could perform the rescue using the park’s A-Star B3e helicopter, but it needed high-altitude, high-speed weather reconnaissance to safely fly through weather stemming from the large East Fork Fire in Southwest Alaska.
At the request of the AKRCC, Alaska Air National Guardsmen of 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons launched on a 211th RQS HC-130J Combat King II search and rescue aircraft.
“The biggest challenge was there was a flow coming out of the southwest that was bringing all of the wildfire smoke into the range, and it was plugging up basically everything north of Talkeetna in the mountains up to about 13,000 feet,” Chenoweth said. “We couldn’t launch our helicopter without assistance from the RCC and with the C-130 looking at general weather patterns and trends as well as holes coming through the weather.”
Once the HC-130 was flying over the rescue route, NPS launched their rescue helicopter.
“Our A-Star took off from Talkeetna, and the C-130 basically guided the A-Star through the different layers and gave feedback that the upper mountain, 14[,200-foot] Camp, and High Camp were in the clear,” Chenoweth said. “One of the challenges for us operating at that elevation is fuel because we try and go really light.
The on-scene Ranger team had to use multiple ropes to lower the patient to a suitable landing site for the A-Star. Still, the slope required a technical “STEP maneuver” to extract the climber.
“In the STEP maneuver, the helicopter comes in and remains under power and puts the front skids down, but it can’t drop the collective – take power off – it flies basically into the hill,” Chenoweth said. “Then the Rangers were able to open the door and load the whole spinal-immobilization sled into the helicopter.”
After loading the patient at 17,100 feet, the helicopter dropped down to 14 Camp and picked up a paramedic, and the HC-130 guided the A-Star back to Talkeetna, confirming weather was still favorable for the approach and landing there.
At the Talkeetna airport, the A-Star met local emergency medical services and a civilian medevac helicopter, which evacuated the patient to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.
Chenoweth said NPS appreciated the joint effort in ensuring a rapid rescue under challenging weather and elevation conditions.
“We are sincerely thankful to the RCC for coordination and the 211th C-130 crew for their efforts,” he said. “And, of course, we are grateful for our ongoing relationship with the 212th.”
For this mission, the National Park Service, 210th RQS, 212th RQS and the AKRCC received credit for one save.