PJ's rescue fallen ice climber in Denali National Park
Two Air Force Reserve pararescuemen from the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., assisted in the rescue of a climber who fell more than 150 feet while climbing Moose's Tooth in Denali National Park April 21.
The 11th Air Force Rescue Coordination Center received the rescue call at 2:20 a.m.
The National Park Service was not able to launch a rescue aircraft until 6 a.m. the next morning - so the RCC coordinator notified the Alaska Air National Guard's 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons.
"The climber needed immediate assistance," said Capt. Gregg Laird, RCC senior controller, Alaska ANG.
The Guardian Angel Weapon system launched with an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and an HC-130P/N King aircraft from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, to make the 120-mile flight northwest of Anchorage.
"The patient was described as going in and out of conscientiousness and we didn't know if he was still on the rock or down at the base," said Staff Sgt. Nate Greene, pararescuemen, ANG.
After flying low, slow patterns over the area - the crew spotted a group of people by a tent in an area up the hill from the landing strip used to access the 10,300-foot peak.
The rescue helicopter pilots found a safe place to land. Greene, along with Senior Master Sgt. Jonathon Davis, ANG, and Tech Sgt.'s Daniel Warren and William Posch, Air Force Reserve PJs from Patrick AFB, made their way to the patient.
"Getting off the helicopter we had a stokes litter and medical bag, "said Warren. "Every step in that deep snow at high altitude and carrying gear was a challenge."
At the tent, the PJ team went to work examining the patient and assessing the situation.
PJs are considered special operators skilled in trauma medicine and conditioned athletes trained in extreme sports, such as mountain climbing and skydiving, to quickly get to combatants wounded on the battlefield and administer life-saving medical treatment. The battlefield, however, is only one of the many places on earth PJs are able to save lives. Any terrain where someone needs rescued, PJs are able to get there.
"Upon initial assessment, the patient was amazingly coherent for falling 150 feet," said Warren.
We took spinal injury precautions and focused on packaging the patient and getting him ready for transport, said Warren.
According to the state of Alaska public affairs office, the climber made it to the top of the climb and was on his way back down when one of his anchors came out of the rock.
"The patient was climbing at night, when the ice is the hardest. His last anchor failed which caused the fall," said Warren. "He hit his head or helmet at least once on the way down and was still suspended in the air after the fall."
The patient's fellow climbers were able to get him to the ground and then place him in a sleeping bag while awaiting rescue, said Warren.
The PJs moved the injured climber onto a spinal board and into a hypothermic bag-equipped litter to keep him warm and secure.
It took three PJs and four members of the climbing party to carry the small patient on a stokes litter through the deep snow to the helicopter, said Warren.
"That's just an example of how extreme the altitude and snow affects a person," said Warren.
The patient was onboard the helicopter by 6:55 a.m. and transported to Providence Hospital by 7:55 a.m.
"Here is an example of more good actions by Guardian Angel Airmen supporting the Alaska ANG," said Col. Mark Blalock, 920th RQW Operations Group commander. "The Alaska alert augmentation has been yielding some great missions and super training and experience we don't normally get."
The Florida reservists have been supplementing the ANG rescue forces for the experience and training only the Alaska mountains can provide.
"Training with the Alaska Air National Guard PJs and working with them on alert is a welcome challenge," said Warren. "It gives us exposure to their unique alert requirement. It's an honor, if only for a short time, to be a part of helping them do what they do best." Warren also took part in another Alaska rescue earlier this year.
The three-week rotations for the Florida Reserve GA Airmen started in January and will continue through September.
Since the start of the Alaska rotations, the 920th RQW GAs have parachuted into a remote village during a snow storm to provide medical help to a villager, been drug through snow by a helicopter while saving an avalanche victim.
"It's a lot like any injured Soldier, Sailor or Marine we see [on the battlefield]. They are just normal people doing amazing things...just having a really bad day. It's our job to make the worst days of their lives just a little better," said Warren.
The motto, "These things we do, that others may live," continues to be a way of life for the GA.
Article by 2nd Lt. Leslie Forshaw, 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs