JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - Alaska Army National Guard Soldiers with 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment rescued a distressed hiker near Inner Lake George yesterday.
A four-member crew of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter were preparing for a routine training flight when the Army Guard’s flight operations center notified them about the mission at approximately 3:30 p.m.
The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received a report of a downed aircraft from the Palmer Flight Services Station and then contacted the Army Guard to see if they could support the rescue mission.
“A pilot made the report to the flight service station in Palmer, who then called the RCC,” said Capt. Brian Tapley, a Black Hawk pilot who flew on the mission as an additional crew chief. “What we understood was there was a gentleman on the ground, adjacent to the aircraft, waving his hands frantically.”
The Black Hawk and crew departed Bryant Army Airfield and headed to Inner Lake George, located east of Eklutna Lake, on the other side of the mountains.
“The initial call was for a plane, so that’s what we were looking for,” said 1st Sgt. David Cochrane, a crew chief on the Black Hawk. “We didn’t spot a plane, and we weren’t able to spot him either.”
After making a few passes in the area, the Black Hawk crew turned north towards Knik River to make their way back to JBER.
While flying low with mountains looming above, radio communications were hindered, explained Tapley.
“We were coming out on the back side of the Knik when we got communications again,” he said.
Once they reached the Knik River, the flight operations center informed them that there was no plane, and that they would be looking for a man in a brightly-colored shirt.
The Black Hawk turned around and headed back to Inner Lake George.
“We made about three or four passes looking for the orange shirt when we spotted him just southwest of the lake,” Tapley said. “There was a little brush strip, and he was just hanging out there waiting for us.”
According to Cochrane, the man was found near Troublesome Creek, which feeds into the lake. The helicopter set down on the brush strip, and Cochrane got out and talked with the individual.
“It was really hard to understand what he was saying because of the rotor wash from the helicopter,” he said.
From what he could make out, the distressed man explained that he had been dropped off and was supposed to be picked up two days before, Cochrane explained.
“He said he was starting to walk back,” said Cochrane. “He couldn’t find his way across the river.”
The hiker had become stranded after realizing the water was too deep for him to cross, Tapley said. Though the man had both a cellphone and a satellite phone, the batteries on both were depleted. Although, even with a charged battery, the cellphone would not have worked between the mountains without the hiker climbing to higher ground.
“We put him on the aircraft and flew him to the hospital,” Tapley said. “He appeared to be in decent shape. He only had a day pack on, and apparently had run out of food or drinkable water.”
The man was flown to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, where he was released to medical personnel.
The 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment was awarded with one save for the mission.