JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Alaska Air National Guardsmen of the 176th Wing rescued a pilot and passenger May 31, two days after they were in an aircraft crash on Mount Hawkins in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
The National Park Service requested support from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at 2:40 p.m. May 29 after inclement weather precluded local rescue assets from reaching the aircraft, pilot and passenger.
The AK RCC coordinated with the 176th Wing to redirect two aircraft and two pararescue teams who were about 130 miles away in Gulkana on a weather hold for a different rescue mission at Mount Bona.
A 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II, each with 212th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel teams of pararescue personnel, responded.
“Due to the high possibility of injuries, typical with aircraft accidents, I coordinated with the 176th Wing to redirect the assets already in Wrangell-St. Elias and to dispatch additional assets to Mt. Bona,” said Maj. Greg Ulrich, AK RCC search and rescue duty officer.
Mount Hawkins is about 56 miles from McCarthy in eastern Alaska and about 80 miles from the Canadian border.
The Combat King II established an orbit overhead and radio relayed the best weather routes to the Pave Hawk. Persistent low ceilings and high moisture content of the clouds delayed the helicopter from reaching the crash.
Rescue attempts continued throughout the night and into the next day with seven aircraft flying more than 74 hours and 18 sorties through inclement weather.
Just after 2 a.m. May 31, using night-vision goggles, a Pave Hawk aircrew was able to safely reach the survivors and lower two pararescuemen to the site using a 120-foot hoist.
The two people, who had suffered minor injuries, were hoisted from the crash site and transported to Providence Regional Medical Center in Anchorage.
Rescue coordination for this effort began when the International Emergency Response Coordination Center notified the NPS Alaska Regional Communication Center of receiving ‘rescue needed’ messages from an InReach device from the vicinity of Mt. Hawkins in the Chugach Range. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the aircraft went off radar at approximately 2:11 p.m. on May 29 and had no flight plan on file.
The mission the Guard initially responded to at Klutlan Glacier near Mount Bona about 60 miles east of McCarthy was completed June 1 with the rescue of a group of mountaineers, thanks to the collaboration of the AK RCC, 176th Wing rescue, the Alaska Army National Guard’s 207th Aviation Battalion and the National Park Service.
The AK RCC recommends all aviators flying in Alaska file a flight plan, bring appropriate survival gear, and equip their aircraft with the modern 406MHz-style emergency locator transmitter. The lack of these safety features complicated the rescue mission and could have contributed to a different outcome.
For this rescue, the 210th RQS, 211th RQS, 212th RQS and AKRCC were awarded two saves.