Alaska Air Guardsmen assist National Park Service rescue of Denali climber

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

Alaska Air National Guardsmen of 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons assisted the National Park Service in their rescue of a fallen climber at Denali May 20.

According to an NPS press release, Denali National Park and Preserve Rangers located the climber who fell from a 16,000-foot ridge on the West Buttress to the Peters Glacier on the evening of May 19. With overhead guidance from 211th RQS Aircrew and 212th RQS pararescuemen onboard an HC-130J Combat King II, a mountaineering Ranger was able to evacuate the patient who had minor injuries.

“It was invaluable flying with pararescuemen with personal experience and in-depth knowledge of the Denali range,” said Lt. Col. Patrick McBride, HC-130J aircraft commander. “The cloud deck was variable, but our team was able to provide route guidance to the Ranger team on the ground.”

Tatsuto Hatanaka, a 24-year-old male from Setagaya-ku, Japan, was climbing with a partner on the West Buttress route just above the fixed line at 16,200 feet. At approximately 11 p.m., Hatanaka’s partner saw him fall from the ridge but could not get to him or see where he came to rest.
Rangers received notification of the fall around 2 a.m., May 20. The NPS dispatched an AS350 A-Star helicopter, and the crew could see Hatanaka. However, cloudy weather conditions prevented the helicopter from getting to the climber.

Two mountaineering Rangers deployed from the 14,200-foot camp and carried out a ground search. After sighting Hatanaka’s location at approximately 15,100 feet on the upper Peters Glacier, four additional mountaineering Rangers departed the 14,200 camp to assist. 

NPS requested fixed-wing search and rescue assistance from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, who then requested assistance from 176th Wing. The wing search and rescue duty officer dispatched a 211th RQS HC-130J Combat King with 212th RQS pararescuemen on board. The HC-130J crew provided weather reconnaissance for the NPS helicopter, finding holes in the low cloud ceiling.

“The NPS helicopter took off from Talkeetna, and we helped them find a route through the range to the north side where the weather was better,” McBride said. “The crew was able to safely land on the glacier where their medical team prepared the patient for air evacuation. We

remained overhead and helped them find the route back across the range for their return to Talkeetna.”

Due to the high altitude, the A-Star crew performed a power-on landing near the climber’s location, enabling the Ranger to step out and help him into the helicopter.

South District Ranger Tucker Chenoweth highlighted the partnership between NPS and the National Guard.

“The Denali Mountaineering Rangers want to acknowledge the strong partnership with the Alaska Air National Guard,” Chenoweth said. “When we are working SAR operations on Denali, it always brings comfort to our team to know the Alaska National Guard has our backs. This was a life saved and could not have been accomplished without the relationship and teamwork of our two agencies.”

For this rescue, the National Park Service, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, the 211th RQS and 212th RQS received credit for one save.