USA — Guard Aircraft Damaged During Alaska Glacier Rescue

CAMP DENALI, Alas­ka — An Alas­ka Army Nation­al Guard UH-60 Black Hawk heli­copter was report­ed to be heav­i­ly dam­aged when it slid and rolled over on Knik Glac­i­er dur­ing a res­cue mis­sion.

The Black Hawk’s three crewmem­bers were report­ed to be uninjured. 

The sol­diers were attempt­ing to res­cue five peo­ple involved in an Aug. 8 air­craft accident. 

The 11th Res­cue Coor­di­na­tion Cen­ter dis­patched an HH-60 Pave Hawk heli­copter and HC-130 Her­cules trans­port plane from the Alas­ka Air Nation­al Guard’s 210th, 211th and 212th Res­cue Squadrons to the scene to assist in recov­ery efforts. The air­craft acci­dent is under investigation. 

Res­cue cen­ter offi­cials orig­i­nal­ly con­tact­ed the Air Guard squadrons Aug. 8 after a per­son­al loca­tor bea­con sig­naled a pos­si­ble acci­dent at about 1 p.m. The bea­con iden­ti­fied a plane belong­ing to a Palmer, Alas­ka, res­i­dent. The pilot was on a one-hour sight­see­ing trip with four friends from out of state. 

“The pilot had tak­en his father’s plane on a sight­see­ing trip from Palmer over the Knik Glac­i­er,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ken­neth Bel­lamy, res­cue coor­di­na­tion cen­ter con­troller for the Alas­ka Air Nation­al Guard. “They were sched­uled to return to Palmer, but the … bea­con gave us coor­di­nates that the plane was on Knik Glacier.” 

Week­end alert crews with the Alas­ka Air Nation­al Guard were con­tact­ed and imme­di­ate­ly report­ed to base and launched an HH-60 Pave Hawk and HC-130 Her­cules with parares­cue­men onboard to the coor­di­nates at about the 8,500 foot lev­el of Knik Glacier. 

“Weath­er at those high alti­tudes and the cloud deck pre­vent­ed us from get­ting to the air­craft,” Bel­lamy said. “With it get­ting late and the weath­er not improv­ing, we start­ed to look at alter­na­tive means of get­ting help to the peo­ple up there.” 

To add to the urgency of the sit­u­a­tion, the peo­ple involved in the air­craft acci­dent do not have sur­vival gear, and fam­i­ly mem­bers said they were wear­ing light cloth­ing when they departed. 

At about 10 p.m., a Guardian Angel team –con­sist­ing of com­bat res­cue offi­cer Maj. Jesse Peter­son and parares­cue­men Mas­ter Sgt. Al Lank­ford and Tech. Sgts. Chris Uri­arte and Angel San­tana — was insert­ed at a low­er ele­va­tion to hike to coor­di­nates of the loca­tor beacon. 

“The Guardian Angel team was insert­ed about four miles away from the air­craft site with shel­ter, food and gear,” said 1st. Lt John Romspert, a com­bat res­cue offi­cer with the Alas­ka Air Guard’s 212th Res­cue Squadron. 

Using moun­taineer­ing skis and tow­ing sleds full of gear, the Guardian Angel team was the best bet to pro­vide sur­vival gear to the peo­ple at the plane. “We con­tin­ue to have good com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the Guardian Angel team and the air­craft, so even though it’s slow going with the weath­er con­di­tions they’re fac­ing, hope­ful­ly they’ll reach them soon,” Romspert said. 

“We’re focused on get­ting our sur­vival experts, the Guardian Angel team, to the dis­tressed crew as quick­ly as pos­si­ble,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Charles E. “Chuck” Fos­ter, com­man­der of the Alas­ka Air Guard’s 176th Wing, said Aug. 9. “I’m con­fi­dent if they get the gear to them, that their abil­i­ty to sus­tain them in these weath­er con­di­tions is great­ly improved.” 

Weath­er con­di­tions on Aug. 8 and Aug. 9, which includ­ed bliz­zard like con­di­tions, cloud cov­er from the ground to 13,000 feet and 70 mph winds, delayed the team’s abil­i­ty to get to the peo­ple, and attempts from the air to get to the dis­tressed crew haven’t worked either, Bel­lamy said. 

“We attempt­ed to drop sur­vival gear from the HC-130 and HH-60, but were unable to get the equip­ment to the peo­ple because of the con­di­tions,” he said. “We cur­rent­ly still have crews out there cir­cling the area in the HC-130 and HH-60, wait­ing for a break in the weath­er, but the con­di­tions haven’t improved.” 

Yes­ter­day, the Army Guard Black Hawk was sent to the scene, when it slid and rolled on the glacier. 

The HH-60 Pave Hawk and HC-130 Her­cules from the Alas­ka Air Nation­al Guard’s 210th, 211th and 212th Res­cue Squadrons were then sent in to recov­er all 12 per­son­nel, includ­ing the three-man Alas­ka Army Guard crew, the four Air Guard parares­cue­men from the Guardian Angel team and the five PA32 crash victims. 

Guard offi­cials said the HH-60 recov­ered three of the crash vic­tims and trans­port­ed them to Matanus­ka Region­al Hos­pi­tal in Palmer, Alas­ka. A sec­ond sor­tie was launched to res­cue the remain­ing per­son­nel, but it was unable to reach the crash site due to inclement weath­er. The HH-60 will remain in Palmer to wait for bet­ter weath­er conditions. 

The pas­sen­gers of the civil­ian air­craft were report­ed to have suf­fered only minor bruis­es in the crash. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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