SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A California Army National Guard aircrew worked through limitations of power and space Sunday, August 25, while airlifting an injured hiker off California's tallest mountain.
The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activated a California Guard CH-47F Chinook helicopter and five-member aircrew, from the Stockton-based B Company, 1st Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, to support the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office in conducting a high altitude hoist rescue of a 30-year-old woman, who was injured by a loose boulder while hiking Mount Whitney in Inyo County.
The aircrew picked up a team from Inyo County Search and Rescue in the nearby town of Bishop and lowered a team member with medical supplies to stabilize the injured hiker. The Chinook then landed in a clearing near Iceberg Lake for insertion of the remaining team members onto the mountain.
Once the team arrived at the woman’s location, the Chinook made its first hoist attempt, said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Paul Mantiply, the helicopter’s pilot in command.
“We attempted to hoist her out, but we didn’t have the rotor clearance the first time. We were down to about ten feet between the blades and the granite.”
Mantiply and his crew then coordinated with searchers on the ground to move the woman about 25 feet out of a crevice in the mountainside to allow more room between the helicopter’s twin rotors and the face of the mountain. The next hoist attempt was successful, he said.
Room to maneuver wasn’t the only challenge the crew faced. At nearly 14,500 feet, Mount Whitney is the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, which required the crew to fly using supplemental oxygen and put a premium on the helicopter’s engine power.
“We were quite low on available power, for a Chinook,” Mantiply said. “It was 13,800 feet we were hovering at.”
Search team members hiked back down to Iceberg Lake where the waiting Chinook picked them up. The aircrew returned both the injured hiker and search team to Bishop Airport where medical personnel were waiting.
The battalion conducts hoist training every year and is a go-to for high altitude rescues, Mantiply said, but this type of mission doesn’t come all that often.
“At that altitude, in a crevice, with granite walls on both sides of the rotor system, we definitely don’t do that all the time,” he said. Critical crew coordination efforts between the helicopter’s pilots, flight engineers, and crew chief ensured the aircraft’s safety in the conditions, Mantiply said.
The activation is the California Guard’s seventh search and rescue mission in support of local, state and federal agencies in 2019 and marks the Guard’s third rescue in California this year.