Alaska Army National Guard helps rescue injured man after falling into Yentna River

by Candis Olmstead

Medevac aircrew from the Alaska Army National Guard provided emergency medical assistance and helicopter medical evacuation to a 75-year old man after he fell into a river and drowned, requiring immediate resuscitation and sustaining multiple injuries, Aug. 12.

The patient was on a guided fishing trip with family members on the Yentna River, in South Central Alaska about 70 miles northwest of Anchorage in a remote area that may only be accessed by aircraft or boat. He had fallen overboard into the river and was underwater for about three to five minutes before being saved. He was not breathing after being saved, and was revived by the trip guide after performing about five minutes of CPR.

An Army National Guard UH-60L Black Hawk medevac helicopter and crew from Detachment 2, G Company, 2nd Battalion, 211th Aviation Regiment, departed Bryant Army Airfield at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, after the Alaska State Troopers requested assistance through the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.

The initial request for support was communicated via InReach SOS activation by the fishing party, which notified AST. The AKRCC, manned with full-time rescue controllers in the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing at JBER, provided the rescue aircrew with the fishing tour group’s grid coordinates, which directed the Black Hawk crew to the injured man’s location. In less than an hour from notification, they launched the aircraft, arrived at the location and began assessing the patient.

“We had some bad weather on the flight over, but as we neared the location, it opened up and we found a spot to land,” said Staff Sergeant Damion Minchaca, a flight paramedic with Det. 2, G-Co, 2-211th AVN. “They were on a river bank and I walked through a creek to get to them, but would not have been able to get the patient back to the aircraft, so the two crew chiefs prepared it for hoist.”

Minchaca assessed the critically injured patient, donned him with an aviation rescue vest, and prepared him to be hoisted into the aircraft. The Black Hawk took off from where it had landed nearby, hovered over Minchaca and the patient, and raised them into the helicopter via hoist.

“Once we were in the aircraft, I took his vitals again, performed an EKG, provided medication, stabilized him and addressed complications,” said Minchaca, “and the crew chiefs provided all of the help I needed.”

Black Hawk crew chiefs in medevac units are responsible for the maintenance and safety of the aircraft, but are also trained in CPR, IVs, basic airway management and drug recognition. While flight paramedics are responsible for providing care and transport of critically ill and injured patients, they are also trained on basic maintenance of the aircraft.

“We all have to be able to pitch in with such small crews,” said Minchaca. “This mission involved landing and hoisting, assessing needs on the ground and providing care en route, and it went smoothly and quickly because we work so well as a team.”

The guide on the trip saved the patient’s life, and the seamless, joint effort of the Alaska Air and Army National Guard units ensured a successful rescue and crucial medical care during transport to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The patient was delivered to the hospital within two hours of the AST request for support, and he was passed directly to a physician on site for continuation of necessary medical care.

Locals and visitors with plans in Alaska’s remote and challenging outdoor environment are highly encouraged to travel with a form of communication and a backup form of service, such as a beacon or satellite tracker.

AST’s video, How to Signal Searchers, has great tips on how to prepare for and stay safe in Alaska’s outdoors at the link: