JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Airmen with the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons rescued a pilot of a Cessna 185 aircraft April 15 near Pish River in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve after the plane crashed.
According to Alaska Air National Guard Senior Master Sgt. Evan Budd, Alaska Rescue Coordination Center superintendent, they were first notified after receiving a 406 ELT alert of a possible aircraft crash. The National Park Service then requested assistance from the AK RCC to rescue the distressed pilot.
According to Peter Christian, National Park Service public information officer, the pilot was able to communicate with an overhead airplane and reported he had suffered injuries and that there were no other passengers on board. He was flying from Kotzebue to Nome when the plane crashed, sustaining significant damage. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot from Nome attempted to overfly the area later in the morning, but was turned back due to poor weather conditions.
The preserve is a national park located on the northern shore of Alaska’s Seward Peninsula.
AK RCC dispatched an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from the 210th RQS and an HC-130 Combat King II from the 211th RQS at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, based on the location provided from the ELT. On board both aircraft were Guardian Angel teams comprising combat rescue officers and pararescuemen highly trained in rescue operations.
Budd said though the weather in the region was favorable, highly localized white-out conditions and high winds made getting to the crash site difficult. The HC-130 aerial refueled the HH-60 several times to grant it the range to complete the mission.
The Pave Hawk was able to land about 300 yards from the crash site allowing the pararescuemen to assess and treat the pilot’s injuries. The crew then transported him to Nome where he was trans-loaded to the HC-130, which took on fuel at the airport.
The HC-130 transported the pilot to JBER where he was released to the Anchorage Fire Department for transport to an area hospital.
Budd credited accurate registration of the plane’s 406 ELT, which included emergency contact information, for the timely rescue. The pilot used a satellite phone that does not rely on a traditional cellphone network to call for help.
Additionally, Budd said the pilot was well-prepared to wait out the storm despite his injuries.
“He was well prepared,” he said. “He had provisions including a sleeping bag, food and shelter. He significantly improved his odds of survival during the severe weather we encountered.”