The eyes in the Northwest skies

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Natasha E. Stannard
  • 92 Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"I knew everything was going to be alright when I heard the sound of the Huey coming--it is still the sound of freedom," rescue 637 survivor said. 

Survivor 637 was rescued by the Fairchild 36th Rescue Flight in Hope, Idaho. The 71-year-old Vietnam Veteran suffered injuries from an all-terrain vehicle accident. This rescue was one of five rescues the 36th RQF here conducted in two weeks and one out of 639 accounted rescues since 1978. 

Up to four Rescue Flight members load on to the U-H1N helicopter to conduct the rescues; a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and medic. 

"Each launch is a crew concept. On scene, there's not just one person who's in charge," said Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher, 36th RQF flight engineer. 

The flight engineer gives the pilots instructions because they usually can't see what's going on or where the pick-up spot is because they're focusing on keeping the aircraft at a safe hover against the harsh winds. All while the flight engineer lowers the medic from more than 200 feet in the air to treat the survivor on the ground, Sergeant Fisher said. 

"Everybody helps everybody," said 1st Lt. Shelly Murray, 36th RQF co-pilot. "Everything just flows, that was one of the neatest things--seeing how everybody can just come together and get the job done. 

The Rescue Flight usually conducts 10 rescues over the span of an entire year, which makes five rescues in two weeks a substantial feat. The influx is most likely due to the nice weather. People are vacationing and doing more outdoor activities, Capt. Michael Warner, 336th Training Group pilot, said. 

In those two weeks the Rescue Flight saved a mountain climber off of Sherpa Glacier, Mt. Stuart; a hiker who fell 1400 feet off a ridgeline a day before the rescue; a motorcyclist who was found in very steep tree-covered terrain and suffered head and back injuries; an ATV rider who suffered broken ribs and was located on a narrow rugged trail at an elevation of 4400 feet; and a Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape student who suffered from hypertension. 

The mountain climber was stuck on an 8,000 foot glacier with a slope of more than 60 degrees in a horseshoe enclosure. The horseshoe enclosure meant one thing; rock walls on each side with one way in, one way out. Its terrain and size was disorienting and created optical illusions, said Captain Warner. 

Training and learning through their rescues gives the team great capabilities to handle anything that comes their way. Sergeant Fisher said they train for any type of terrain and get called to rescue anywhere from Seattle to eastern Montana to Bend, Oregon. 

"We're constantly changing environments so nothing is ever the same," said Tech. Sgt. Matt Ryplewski, 36th RQF flight engineer. "You train and train, but a lot of times you can't train for the exact difficulty of a rescue." 

When the crew returns from a mission, critiquing begins, which can sometimes be difficult because mistakes have to be accepted so they can be learned from and prevented in future missions, Lieutenant Murray said. 

"Evaluate every situation separately and differently," Lieutenant Murray said. "Its important to take the good and the bad and apply those lessons, but at the same time stay on your toes because there are way too many unique variables". 

Tech. Sgt. Nick Graham, 336th Training Support Squadron independent duty medical technician, said trust is a necessary resource in rescues. It was implemented with the motorcycle rider they rescued. He was located in very harsh terrain. The tree cover was very thick and reached more than 150 feet high on the already steep peak of approximately 6,000 feet. Teamwork was apparent in this rescue as Sergeant Ryplewski spotted the patient and lowered the medic, Sergeant Graham, 230 feet down to treat the patient. 

"When you're hanging out of a helicopter 200 feet at night, it's easier to do your job if you trust everybody," Sergeant Graham, said. 

Once the medic was on the ground Sergeant Ryplewski lowered the stokes and litter, which didn't reach the ground so he had to instruct the pilots on where to maneuver the aircraft so the they would reach. 

"Our job can be stressful because you're trying to get the medic on the ground from more than 200 feet in the air in a safe and timely manner," said Sergeant Ryplewski. "We work a lot with the pilots to give them directions on where to move the plane so they can place the medic in the correct coordinates." 

The mountain climber stuck on the glacier also proved necessary team work and showed apparent crew resource management as the flight engineer picked up the survivor, which caused the aircraft to slowly sink. The flight engineers worked to diminish this issue while the pilots, Captain Warner and Lieutenant Murray, worked to regain airspeed at which time the mountain downdrafts caught the aircraft and accelerated it to 50 knots. The pilots then worked to decrease the airspeed while the flight engineer brought the survivor in the aircraft. 

"There's nothing that compares to the trust and teamwork demonstrated by the Rescue Flight officers and enlisted personnel," said Captain Warner.