176th Wing rescues snowmachiners stranded in ravine

  • Published
  • By Maj. Chelsea Aspelund
  • 176th Wing Public Affairs

Arctic Guardians of the 176th Wing rescued two snowmachiners stranded in a ravine on Bald Mountain near Wasilla March 25.

Nearing midnight, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received a call from the Alaska State Troopers to assist in rescuing two teenage snowmachiners stranded approximately 1,500 feet up Bald Mountain near Wasilla.

“The snowmachiners were down inside a ravine in chest-deep snow and thick tundra brush,” said Alaska Air National Guard Master Sgt. Katelyn Biermann, Alaska Rescue Coordination Center senior controller. “Fortunately, they were within cell coverage, so AST connected us directly with them to better understand the terrain and weather conditions.”

The AKRCC immediately coordinated with the 176th Operations Group search and rescue duty officer to dispatch a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter with a 212th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel team comprising two pararescuemen onboard.

Visibility was limited by snow and fog, so aircrew navigated towards the patient-provided coordinates using lights along the Glenn Highway. At approximately four miles out, aircrew asked the duo to turn on their cellphone flashlights.  

“We were able to locate the survivors with precision and speed once they turned their lights on,” said Maj. Tyler Seibold, HH-60G aircraft commander. “A flashlight, or even a lighter, can be seen two or more miles out with night vision googles.”

Once overhead, the special mission aviators on board the Pave Hawk surveyed the terrain and confirmed steep, vertical terrain on the up-mountain slope in addition to high terrain on either side of the survivors.

Anticipating challenging terrain and blowing snow, the Guardian Angel team was prepared to either hoist down to the exact location or to back-country ski with overnight capable sheltering to set up camp until the HH-60G arrived.

The mission required a SMA on both sides of the aircraft to ensure a safe hoist.

“Weather allowed us the option to hover at a slight offset to minimize rotor wash,” Seibold said. “While the left SMA made sure we were clear of the mountain, the right SMA directed the hoist to ensure the pararescuemen and the patient remained clear of trees. Our SMAs are truly invaluable to safe operations in complex terrain.”

The pararescue team descended 80-feet to the survivors’ location where they warmed and prepared the patients for the return hoist to the aircraft. Once stabilized, one pararescuemen accompanied each patient as the SMA hoisted them onto the aircraft. They received en route care to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center where medical providers and the snowmachiners’ parents awaited their arrival.

The AKRCC emphasized the importance of recreating with emergency equipment, to include a visual-signaling device and a two-way, over-the-horizon SOS device.

“Cellphone coverage is not a guarantee in Alaska,” Biermann said. “Being prepared with a backup means to communicate coordinates, terrain, nature of injuries and to signal rescuing assets speeds up the recovery process immensely.”

For this mission, the AKRCC, 210th RQS, and 212th RQS were credited for two saves.