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.
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