JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – An Alaska Army National Guard aircrew provided emergency medical care and evacuation to a 75-year-old man who fell into a river and stopped breathing Aug. 12.
The patient was on a guided fishing trip with family members on the Yentna River in South Central Alaska about 70 miles northwest of Anchorage in a remote area only accessed by aircraft or boat. He fell overboard and was underwater for three to five minutes before being pulled from the water. He was not breathing and was revived by the trip guide after about five minutes of CPR.
An Army National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk medevac helicopter and crew from Detachment 2, G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, departed Bryant Army Airfield at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson around 3:30 p.m. Aug. 12 after the Alaska State Troopers requested assistance through the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.
The initial request for help was communicated via InReach SOS activation by the fishing party, which notified AST. The AKRCC, staffed with full-time rescue controllers in the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing at JBER, provided the rescue aircrew with the fishing tour group’s grid coordinates. In less than an hour, they arrived and began assessing the critically injured patient.
“We had some bad weather on the flight over, but as we neared the location, it opened up and we found a spot to land,” said Staff Sgt. Damion Minchaca, a flight paramedic. “They were on a riverbank and I walked through a creek to get to them but would not have been able to get the patient back to the aircraft, so the two crew chiefs prepared it for hoist.”
The Black Hawk took off from where it had landed nearby, hovered over Minchaca and the patient, and raised them into the helicopter via hoist.
“Once we were in the aircraft, I took his vitals again, performed an EKG, provided medication, stabilized him and addressed complications,” said Minchaca, “and the crew chiefs provided all of the help I needed.”
Black Hawk crew chiefs in medevac units are responsible for the maintenance and safety of the aircraft but are also trained in CPR, IVs, basic airway management and drug recognition. While flight paramedics are responsible for providing care and transport of critically ill and injured patients, they are also trained on basic maintenance of the aircraft.
“We all have to be able to pitch in with such small crews,” said Minchaca.
“This mission involved landing and hoisting, assessing needs on the ground and providing care en route, and it went smoothly and quickly because we work so well as a team.”
The guide on the trip saved the patient’s life, and the Alaska Air and Army National Guard units ensured a successful rescue and crucial medical care during transport to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The patient was delivered to the hospital within two hours of the AST request for support and passed directly to a doctor.
People traveling in Alaska’s remote and challenging outdoor environment are highly encouraged to bring a form of communication and backup service, such as a beacon or satellite tracker.