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 was initiated at 7:55 a.m. on May 29 when the National Park Service requested support from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center after receiving an inReach personal locator beacon notification from mountaineers experiencing high-altitude sickness and adverse weather conditions.
The 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard, initially launched a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II, each with a 212th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel team of pararescue personnel on board.
High winds, snowfall and low visibility over Klutlan Glacier precluded multiple attempts by the Pave Hawk to reach the mountaineers. In response, the Combat King II attempted an airdrop of medical supplies through the weather to sustain the mountaineers until rescue personnel could reach them.
On the evening of May 30, the AK RCC requested “high-altitude, heavy-airlift” support from the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, who dispatched an Alaska Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook with a paramedic from the 2nd Battalion, 211 Aviation Regiment, on board.
The Chinook conducted multiple attempts to reach the mountaineers while the Combat King remained overhead to provide weather reconnaissance and wind reports.
More than 20 sorties were conducted, and 80 hours flown by crews basing out of Gulkana Airport and forward deploying to McCarthy Airport to seek alternate routes through the weather. The NPS and Gulkana Fuel were instrumental in coordinating logistics to include bed-down, food and fuel at Gulkana.
At approximately 4:45 p.m. on June 1, the Chinook crew safely landed and onloaded all 12 mountaineers and approximately a thousand pounds of gear. The flight medic on board assessed, treated and stabilized two mountaineers with symptoms of high-altitude sickness and treated a third with minor frostbite injuries.
The Chinook transported the mountaineers to Gulkana Airport where the members with high-altitude sickness and the flight medic were transloaded to the Combat King and medevaced to Anchorage.
This multi-agency 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 Advisor, Alaska Air National Guard, Alaska Army National Guard, Ultima Thule Lodge, St. Elias Alpine Guides and Gulkana Fuel.