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 urgent need of medical care 10 miles southwest of Anderson 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 its capabilities flying in high winds using night vision goggles.
The man’s residence is accessible only through a trail commonly traversed by snow machines, with his own inoperable because of the freezing temperatures. Two days without power, failing generators and an extreme snowstorm inhibited his ability to use 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 sent a UH-60L Black Hawk crew from Detachment 2, G Co, 2-211th, with 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 medical personnel made their way to the home using snowshoes and a sled for equipment. They navigated a wilderness terrain of trees, vegetation, and snow loads in low light, 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 stabilized and prepared the man for transport to a medical facility. While the Black Hawk and aircrew were refueling at Fairbanks International Airport, the medical personnel cleared an area of trees enabling the Black Hawk to land closer to the home.
The crew transported the man to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital for treatment by civilian medical professionals.
Lewis said the success of the mission depended on a well-executed team effort to reach and save the man.
“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.”
The AKRCC, 207th AVN, and the Fairbanks Fire Department were awarded one save for this mission.