Search and Rescue conducts tricky mountain rescue

A Search and Rescue team of five from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island conducted a rescue mission on Mount Hood, Ore., on Sunday, June 12.

The crew launched from NAS Whidbey Island at 7 p.m. in response to a call for two climbers stuck on Mount Hood.  After arriving on scene and doing several passes to find the survivors, the crew, with assistance from a fixed-wing Civil Air Patrol asset, located the two climbers at 10,300 feet on an icy cliff.  Based on the temperature and elevation, the crew was unable to immediately hover, so they landed nearby to drop off extra gear to lower aircraft weight.

Once the helicopter was as light as it could possibly be, the crew conducted power checks and moved in for the rescue.

The crew chief called the pilots into position mere feet from the cliff face and lowered the  helicopter inland rescue aircrewman, or HIRA, down to the first survivor.

After hoisting the HIRA and first climber into the helicopter, the crew flew a small circle to reset and get ready for the second pickup. Again, the crew chief called the pilots into position and lowered the HIRA to the climber who was perched at the edge of a sheer cliff face.  Unpredictable winds made hovering very difficult in this location, but the crew was able to quickly, and safely get the second survivor onboard.

With everyone secured in the helicopter, the crew assessed the survivors for injuries while the pilots coordinated a landing at Portland International Airport to refuel.  After fueling, the crew flew back to Mount Hood and landed at a pre-coordinated landing zone by Timberline Lodge, to transfer the climbers to the Mountain Rescue ground unit.  Upon turnover, the crew of “Rescue 58” (aircraft call sign) picked up their extra gear and returned the 180 miles back to NAS Whidbey Island for shutdown.

“This rescue today just validated the amount of training we do day in and day out,” said Naval Aircrewman 2nd Class Justin Colon.  “The crew worked together flawlessly and we got the job done.”

Two days later a SAR team also conducted a Medical Evacuation on Tuesday, June 14 from Naval Hospital Oak Harbor, on NAS Whidbey Island.

The SAR crew of four received initial notification that a female patient was in need of urgent postpartum care at 3:17 p.m. The crew conducted preflight planning, specifically looking into the weather that had been moving into the area, and determined they could complete the flight safely.  An ambulance transferred the patient to the waiting helicopter and the crew launched at 4:10 p.m.

The crew worked their way around storm cells and landed at Madigan Army Medical Center at 4:50 p.m. to transfer the patient.  Once the entire crew was back onboard, they took off and flew back to NAS Whidbey Island.

“It is good that we were able to get the mother down to the care that she needed,” said SAR Mission Commander, Lt. Jared Wada. “We always strive to do our best, and it is nice when we can help a member of our Navy family.”

This was the sixth MEDEVAC of 2016 for NAS Whidbey Island SAR, which has also conducted two search missions, and nine rescue operations this year.

The Navy SAR unit operates three MH-60S helicopters from NAS Whidbey Island as search and rescue platforms for the EA-18G aircraft as well as other squadrons and personnel assigned to the installation. The base also has an agreement to assist Washington State and the surrounding areas with medical evacuations and search and rescue activities if other assets are unavailable.