2 hikers rescued by National Guard at Penguin Peak
Two hikers are safe thanks to efforts by the National Guard and a new medevac team.
This is the first time a new Alaska Army National Guard medevac unit performed a rescue mission with the hoist.
It all happened near Penguin Peak, between Bird Creek and Girdwood in the Chugach Mountain Range on Tuesday morning when one of the hikers fell 30-feet from a ridge into a saddle, hurt and unable to walk. Soon 9-1-1 emergency received a call from the hikers and Alaska State Troopers contacted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center to assist. A "saddle" in hiking terms indicates the lowest point between two higher peaks, which usually resembles a U-shaped saddle formation.
The RCC radioed a medical evacuation support team which quickly took off in an Army Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, departing from Bryant Army Airfield at JBER before picking up pararescuemen waiting on the Girdwood baseball fields. The crews on standby helped the mission go smoothly. "They were prepped and ready, standing by at the Girdwood Fire Station, and the baseball fields were an open area where we could get them quickly and head to the saddle,” said 2nd Lt. Cody McKinney, the medevac unit commander and pilot for this mission.
Once in the air, McKinney focused on reaching the hikers saying, "On the way to Girdwood, we reconned the ridgeline and saw the hikers. We indicated that we saw them with a wave of the aircraft [...] then headed straight to the guys on the mountain.”
According to McKinney, the hikers were located on steep, rough terrain at a rocky elevation of 3,600 feet. The hikers were situated in a saddle about 200-feet wide and 75-feet deep, with the hurt person at the bottom. His friend had climbed to a peak next to them to wave down McKinney and the rescue crews.
After establishing where the hurt hiker was, pararescuemen made their way down the peak with the hoist then descended on foot to examine the injured man. Rescuers determined he couldn't walk and both hikers were both hoisted out of the saddle with the Black Hawk helicopter hovering 70 feet above ground.
“Our flight medics are nationally certified critical care flight paramedics,” said McKinney. “They go to school for nearly two years.”
McKinney went on to say their flight medics have continuously trained and have performed hoist missions for other incidents, but this was truly "a life-saver".
This was a joint mission between Alaska National Guard and the Army Guard's 2nd Battalion, 104th Aviation and the Air Guard's 212th Rescue Squadron.
“We train for this and everyone in our unit is an Alaskan, and we are always ready and prepared to support state and federal missions,” said McKinney. “Being able to bring someone home is priceless.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated one of the hikers climbed down to flag the helicopter and that rescuers had to get to higher round to extract the pair. This story has been edited for clarity.
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