NEWS | June 2, 2021

Alaska National Guard rescues stranded mountaineers

By Maj. Chelsea Aspelund, Alaska National Guard Public Affairs

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Alaska Air and Army National Guardsmen rescued 12 stranded mountaineers on Klutlan Glacier southeast of Mt. Bona in Wrangell-St Elias National Park June 1.

The rescue response began at 7:55 a.m. May 29 when the National Park Service asked the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center for help after receiving an inReach personal locator beacon notification from mountaineers experiencing high-altitude sickness and bad weather.

The 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard, launched a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II, each with pararescue personnel from the 212th Rescue Squadron.

High winds, snow and low visibility over Klutlan Glacier precluded multiple attempts by the Pave Hawk to reach the mountaineers. The Combat King II attempted an airdrop of medical supplies through the weather to sustain the mountaineers until they could be reached.

At night on May 30, the AK RCC requested “high-altitude, heavy-airlift” support from the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, which dispatched an Alaska Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook with a paramedic from the 2nd Battalion, 211 Aviation Regiment.

The Chinook tried multiple times to reach the mountaineers while the Combat King remained overhead to provide weather and wind reports.

More than 20 sorties were conducted, with crews flying 80 hours basing out of Gulkana Airport and forward deploying to McCarthy Airport to seek alternate routes through the weather. The NPS and Gulkana Fuel coordinated logistics to include bed-down, food and fuel at Gulkana.

At about 4:45 p.m. June 1, the Chinook crew was able to land and load all 12 mountaineers and about 1,000 pounds of gear. The flight medic assessed, treated and stabilized two mountaineers with symptoms of high-altitude sickness and treated a third with minor frostbite.

The Chinook transported the mountaineers to Gulkana Airport, where the two people with high-altitude sickness and the medic were transerred to the Combat King and flown to Anchorage.

The multiagency rescue was coordinated by the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Search and Rescue Team and the AK RCC and included personnel and aircraft from the National Park Service - Alaska region medical adviser, Alaska Air National Guard, Alaska Army National Guard, Ultima Thule Lodge, St. Elias Alpine Guides and Gulkana Fuel.