JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Airmen with the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th and 212th Rescue Squadrons rescued two people near the Chatanika River, approximately 30 miles northwest of Fairbanks, Dec. 8.
Two men were riding snow-machines on the river when one of the snow-machines broke through the ice, according to Lt. Col. John Morse, deputy director of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center. Afterwards, the second snow-machine broke down.
The pair sought shelter in a nearby cabin and placed a call to the Alaska State Troopers for help before their phone died, said Morse. During the call, the men stated that one of them could not feel his feet.
The AST was not able to support the mission and contacted the Alaska Air National Guard for assistance.
“The Air National Guard and the Alaska State Troopers have a good working partnership,” said Morse. “At the time, their assets were wrapped up in another mission, so the Air Guard was able to step up and help.”
The AKANG accepted the mission at approximately 4 a.m. and launched an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter from the 210th Rescue Squadron with a team of Guardian Angels from the 212th Rescue Squadron aboard, out of JBER.
Guardian Angels teams are highly trained medical personnel made up of a pararescueman and a combat rescue officer who both specialize in conducting high-risk rescue missions.
Typically, long distance missions require air refueling by the 211th Rescue Squadron’s HC-130 “King” aircraft, but an HC-130 was unavailable for this mission, explained Morse.
Eielson AFB’s close proximity to the Chatanika River provided an ideal refueling location with little impact on the rescue timeframe.
“The ability to be flexible and adapt to the situation is critical in finding success in these kinds of missions,” he said. “Also, Eielson provided our crews with really good support.”
After a stop at Eielson to refuel, the HH-60 crew flew past popular recreation site, Murphy Dome, and eventually located the cabin near the Chatanika River after a brief search of the area.
There, the HH-60 landed nearby and loaded the two stranded men into the helicopter and then flew them to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital where they were released to medical personnel.
“It sounded like the two men were prepared and did everything right,” said Morse, “but that they just hit some bad luck. It is always prudent to check the weather conditions before setting out to hopefully avoid this sort of situation. That said, our guys did a great job of bringing these men to safety.”