Down here in the Lower 48, we take it for granted that weather forecasts are ubiquitous, and some kind of rescue response is never more than a cell phone call away. But up in Alaska, the environment is no joke. Weather is wildly unpredictable. There are basically three major paved highways in a state with a landmass that swallows Texas like a big kid at a cake party. Cell coverage? Hilarious. If you aren’t on one of those afore-mentioned roads or in a city/town/village (yep), forget about it.
But when things go awry in Alaska, and they often do, Alaskans are covered by an integrated SAR system that activates hundreds of times a year. The myriad SAR options that exist up there are a topic for another post, but Alaskans know that between the private groups, Alaska State Troopers, Coast Guard, and the Alaska National Guard; a citizen in need at least has a shot at getting help.
That’s exactly what happened this weekend. The first big winter storm of the season rolled through and dropped 15-20″ of fresh on four ATVers (three adults, one child) who were 12 miles into a 20 mile return leg when they were stopped cold by the weather and found themselves ill-equipped to survive the environment.
What happened next happens, on average, once a week throughout the year – the Alaska State Troopers contacted the 11th Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, and the RCC launched a HH-60G Pave Hawk from the 210th Rescue Squadron loaded with two PJs from the 212th Rescue Squadron.
I wasn’t there, but I’m guessing even getting the helo into the site was no joke for the pilots. There’s a reason dozens of aircraft crash each year in Alaska. But they made it, located the patients, and the PJs then hoisted the four out and took care of them.
Four saves in the “W” column, boys. Hooyah.