by Lt. Col. Candis Olmstead
Soldiers with the Alaska Army National Guard’s 1-207 Aviation Battalion rescued three individuals shortly after 10 p.m. Sept. 3 about 20 miles northwest of St. Mary’s after their plane crashed.
The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at JBER was contacted by a commercial air taxi service after the pilot of the aircraft activated his SPOT personal satellite beacon and made notification of the crash. The AKRCC contacted the Alaska Army National Guard to request assistance from their aviation unit stationed in Bethel.
A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and aircrew from the 1-207th departed the Guard’s Army Aviation Operating Facility in Bethel around 9 p.m.
“The pilot had a SPOT beacon and satellite phone, which helped tremendously with finding their location and being able to help them out as quickly as possible,” said Capt. Andrew Adams, the Black Hawk pilot and commander of the AAOF.
Adams said they were told that the passengers had been moose hunting and after harvesting the moose, they flew back to where their vehicles were to drop off all of their gear. They were heading back to the site of the downed moose in order to pick it up when the crash occurred.
“We found them on a hillside near the ridgeline with the plane flipped over,” said Adams.
“They didn’t have any of their gear, so they weren’t prepared for the elements and had no source for a fire,” said Adams. “They were huddled near the fuselage under a tarp or cover, waiting for us, and it had become pretty dark at that point.”
Adams said they were able to communicate with the pilot on the ground while in route to the accident location, allowing them to discuss protocols once the helicopter landed. The pilot agreed to flash lights from their headlamps when they heard and saw the incoming helicopter.
“It saved time, although we already had the exact coordinates,” said Adams. “It was just helpful to be able to see them as they waited for us.”
The Alaska State Troopers were waiting at the AAOF to assist the airplane pilot and passengers upon arrival.
The AKRCC shares that all pilots traveling in Alaska should have an emergency locator beacon on their aircraft, they should be packed for long-term survival, and a satellite phone is also highly recommended.
The AKRCC and the 1-207th Aviation Battalion were awarded three saves for this mission.