by Maj. Chelsea Aspelund
During a complex medevac involving three 176th Wing Guardian Angel teams, two HC-130J Combat King II aircraft and one HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter, a combat rescue officer and a pararescueman parachuted into Pilot Station, March 8, to reach a patient in critical condition.
Nearing midnight, March 7, the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center received a call for medical evacuation assistance from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel.
The attending physician at YKHC said the community health aide at Pilot Station, approximately 90 miles northwest of Bethel, needed an immediate medevac for a trauma patient suffering from a severe neck injury.
“The only option for transportation to higher care from Pilot Station this time of year is by aircraft, and LifeMed was on weather hold due to high winds and freezing rain along the route of flight,” said Master Sgt. Katelyn Biermann, senior controller at the Alaska Rescue Coordination center.
The AKRCC immediately coordinated with the 176th Operations Group search and rescue duty officer to request assets from the 176th Wing.
Alert aircrew and 212th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel teams were contacted while aircraft maintenance personnel prepared the 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J and 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G.
Upon arrival, the GA teams inspected their parachutes and selected the right medical kits for the mission. In preparation for no-notice taskings, mission support personnel at the 212th RQS maintain parachutes and medical kits that are ready to be loaded onto an aircraft, into a vehicle or strapped to a pararescueman.
“Our support teams are a cornerstone to these missions,” said Capt. Miles Brodsky, lead combat rescue officer for the mission. “Their ability to pack parachutes capable of low-altitude opening and to make sure we have the right medical equipment for the unique components of each mission is truly what saves lives.”
As the patient’s condition became more critical, the attending physician at Bethel provided medical guidance to the community health aides and relayed updates to the GA teams. This took a lot of guesswork out of final preparations and coordination with the blood bank at JBER.
Reviewing the final flight plan, weather was projected to be challenge en route and landing at Pilot Station, so the aircrew and the GA teams planned multiple options.
Pilot Station is a small airfield, unable to support the landing weight of an HC-130J, so the aircrew informed YKHC that if the HH-60G arrived first aircrew would land at the airfield, but if the HC-130J arrived first, the GA team would have to parachute onto the airfield.
A few hours after the call from YKHC, aircrew identified a safe weather window, and 176th Wing assets were airborne and en route with GA teams on the HC-130J and the HH-60G.
Due to poor weather, the HH-60G landed in a field to wait for better weather and daylight.
“The HC-130J expedited flight time by refueling the HH-60G and providing weather and terrain navigation for both aircraft as they traveled through changing weather and challenging mountain passes,” Biermann said. “Unfortunately, weather became too severe for the HH-60G to refuel a second time, so the crew diverted to Aniak where they refueled on the ground and waited for the weather to break.”
The HC-130J aircrew continued to Pilot Station.
Overhead, Brodsky coordinated clearance and prepared his team to parachute in with their medical kits strapped to their bodies. Master Sgt. Aaron Parcha, lead pararescuman and jumpmaster for the mission, verified windspeed, direction and landing zone trajectory, with the combat systems officer on board, to ensure the team could safely execute the jump.
Good Samaritans on the ground at Pilot Station turned the runway lights on in preparation for the jump and waited with a vehicle for rapid transport to the medical clinic where the GA team joined the community health aides.
“We immediately administered the first unit of blood, but the reality is, the health aides and the village community had already come together to keep the patient alive,” Brodsky said. “With larger hospitals miles or even hours away, heath aides are an invaluable asset to rural Alaska.”
With personnel safely on the ground and word of a weather break for the HH-60G at Aniak, in addition to a second HC-130J en route from JBER to Bethel with a third GA team and a relief crew for the HH-60G on board, the HC-130J aircrew navigated their return route to JBER.
Nearly 12 hours after departing JBER, the medical team stabilized and prepared the patient for transport while the HH-60G aircrew navigated a break in the weather at Aniak and flew safely to Pilot Station.
The GA team on board the HH-60G received the patient and administered an additional unit of blood during transport to Bethel where the second HC-130J awaited patient transload for rapid transport to Anchorage.
On board the second HC-130J, Master Sgt. Anthony Fletes, the 212th RQS independent duty medical technician, and a third GA team took the lead for airborne patient care.
“The incredible thing about our IDMT flying out with King [HC-130J] is that he provided a fresh perspective and a new set of eyes to our patient care,” Brodsky said. “At that point, we were exhausted after nearly 14 hours of ground and airborne care.”
En route to JBER, the HC-130J refueled the HH-60G while the medical team continued patient care and coordinated with the gaining medical team in Anchorage. Once on the ground, the patient was transported to higher medical care by LifeMed Alaska ambulance.
“This mission is a testament to the hard work of the medical professionals across the state of Alaska and to everyone involved from the 176th Wing,” Brodsky said. “Our maintenance and mission support teams keep us alive every time we pull a parachute, connect a hoist, or operate an aircraft”.
For this mission, the AKRCC, 210th RQS, 211th RQS and 212th RQS are credited for one save.
Maj. Chelsea Aspelund writes from the 176th Wing Public Affairs at JBER, Alaska.