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Home : News
NEWS | Feb. 26, 2014

Alaska Black Hawk crews interrupt training to assist stranded snow machine rider

By Sgt. Balinda O'Neal Alaska National Guard

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - Alaska Guard members who had been conducting a formation training flight Saturday helped pull a snow machine and rider out of a hole in the ice.

The Guard members, with B Company, 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, were in two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters when they came across the incident on 20 Mile River at the end of Turnagain Arm.

"My copilot, 1st Lt. Adam Lucero, spotted him first," said Chief Warrant Officer Chuck Baker, lead pilot for the training mission. "He was waving his hands, standing on top of his snow machine, which was partially submerged in open water."

Baker explained that it appeared his only alternative would have been for the stranded man to abandon his machine and swim for safety.

"His partner had been trying to throw a rope to him for a while and was unable to recover his friend," said Baker. "Swimming across posed the threat of hypothermia or being swept under, and they were more than an hour out."

The Black Hawk crew identified a potential landing zone on a nearby bar in the river and after a risk assessment made a low approach while identifying obstacles and assessing snow.

"I saw that I could make a safe landing, and the crew chiefs cleared the aircraft," said Baker. "The second Black Hawk began orbiting above to provide cover and assistance if needed."

After landing, the lead crew chief, Sgt. Sean Pritchard, exited the aircraft and made contact with the man on shore. After accessing the situation, he went back for the other two crew chiefs, Pvt. 1st Class Matthew Bautista and Spc. Brianna McMillen.

Knee deep in snow, the four were able to work the machine and its rider to shore. The men were then able to recover themselves with the one good snow machine.

"We all have a 'go bag' that contains extra supplies such as clothes and food," Baker said. "Sgt. Prichard offered these supplies, but the gentleman didn't want them."

According to Baker the decision to assist was low risk and the crew and aircraft were not being put in danger. They were able to help someone in a potentially life threatening situation.

"We will break from training any time to assist someone, especially if it can be conducted in a safe manner," Baker said.

"It put a smile on my face to see the guy shake my crew chief's hand and give us the thumbs up that everything was all right," Baker added. "We are Alaskans helping fellow Alaskans."