36 Rescue Flight rescues Idaho teen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Larry W. Carpenter Jr.
  • 92 Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
The night was clear, the air was brisk but not extremely cold, and the moon was nowhere to be found. Sounds like a perfect evening for star gazing, unless you're lost on a mountain all by yourself.

Late Sunday night, the 36th Rescue Flight at Fairchild was called into action to help find a missing 15 year-old lost skier in Idaho. Within two hours, the 36th had their plan in motion to provide assistance.

As luck would have it, just after catching a red-eye flight home from Alaska, Tech. Sgt. Jason Oldenburg, 336th Training Support Squadron independent duty medical technician was called into action to help find the skier.

The on-call crew received the call around 8:30 p.m. and reported immediately to the 36th RQF to gather their gear, prep the aircraft and get in the air.

"I am extremely proud of my guys for reacting instantly on Sunday night," said Maj. Curt Wichers, 36th RQF commander. "It was just over two hours from notification to lift off."

Once the aircraft was in the air it was a 45 minute direct flight, guided by the greenish tint of night vision goggles due to near zero light in the search area.

The aircraft established communication with the ground party and had them mark the missing skier's last known position so that it would be a starting point for the search.

"We were given good coordinates for the general location but we wanted the exact spot marked with a beacon," said Capt. Geoffrey Petyak, 36th RQF executive officer and co-pilot on the rescue mission. "It gave us a starting point for our initial search."

The crew began a high to low contour search of the mountain in the area where they thought the victim might be. Coming across a heavily wooded area, the pilots and flight engineer saw a light flash a couple of times. They assumed it was the 15 year-old skier trying to signal the aircraft.

When the crew spoke with the sheriffs department after the rescue, they learned the victim didn't have any light source with him. So where did the light signal come from?

"One can draw their own conclusion about what the flashing light was, but I like to think that it was an angel with a little beacon," said Sergeant Oldenburg.

Once the missing skier was located, the pilots flew a few passes to recon the area and then settled into a hover over the victim for a hoist extraction. The closest that the aircraft could get was 120 feet due to the tall trees that surrounded the extraction site.

"We had to perform a 120-foot hoist, but the guys in the back said it looked a lot higher," said Captain Petyak.

Sergeant Oldenburg was lowered to the ground by the flight engineer, Staff Sgt. Jonathon Hill, 36th RQF so that he could attend to the victim. Sergeant Oldenburg checked the skier for any injuries before placing him on the forrest penetrator to get hoisted back into the helicopter.

"I was impressed because the young man was very calm, cool and collected when I arrived," said Sergeant Oldenburg. "He did exactly what I told him, didn't act scared or excited, but just followed instructions and did a great job. He made it real easy on me."

Once the 15 year-old was back in the chopper, the crew headed to base camp and the landing zone which was set up in the parking lot of the ski resort. The aircrew handed the skier over to the Sheriff's department.

"I gave the young man my IDMT patch, it's kind of a customary thing we like to do for our rescue victims," said Sergeant Oldenburg. "He said 'thank you' and seemed pretty relieved to be back in good hands."

This was the 622nd successful rescue for the men and women of the 36th RQF.

"It's always great to help reunite someone with their family and it's personally rewarding," said Captain Petyak. "Everybody else here at the 36th RQF feels the same way, it's what we love to do."