DUSTOFF Rescue of the Year
In the always exciting, harrowing, almost debilitating world of DUSTOFF, each rescue is important. Some just have more complications than others-for a variety of reasons and environments. This year's winner is only a hair or so ahead of the rest of our brave comrades' exploits. The Rescue of the Year Award goes to the 571st Medical Company (AA), Fort Carson, Colorado, 25 March 2000. Crewmembers included: CPT Jeffery Mosso, CPT Edward Mandril, SGT Phillip Smith. At approximately 1200 P.M. a call came in from the Lake County Search and Rescue Department requesting that the on duty crew provide assistance in extracting a lost and injured hiker from Mt. Elbert near Leadville, Colorado. This would be an extremely high-altitude rescue, and the possibility of conducting a hoist rescue at altitude was almost eminent. They departed Butts AAF to the north. The weather was overcast, and the ceilings were low through the high mountain passes. Time was of the essence, due to the patient's already deteriorating critical condition. The hiker had been lost on Mt. Elbert for two days and had been located with a personnel locator beacon. The hiker had extreme frostbite of the face, hands, and feet, and was literally freezing to death. The hiker was located approximately three-quarters of the way up the side of the 14,500-foot mountain. Once the MEDEVAC crew arrived at the location of the patient, they did an aerial evaluation of the pick-up site and conducted aircraft power checks to determine if they had the capability to conduct this rescue with their UH-60A Blackhawk. The power checks confirmed that they did have the power, but that the aircraft would be performing at or close to its maximum performance capabilities. Due to the steep and uneven terrain, the crew determined that a safe landing could not be accomplished. It was then decided that the only way to extract the hiker successfully and save his life would be by way of high-performance hoist. Once in position over the pick-up site, SSG Dixon (crewchief) hoisted SGT Smith (flight medic) down approximately 75 feet to the hiker's location. The pilots had to maneuver continuously and adjust the aircraft to accommodate for the gusting wind and blowing snow. At the same time the pilots were keeping a close eye on the aircraft instruments and very carefully managing the aircraft's available power. Because of the extreme altitude, the crew knew that hypoxia would soon pose a problem. So they worked as quickly as they could. The ceilings were beginning to come down and were right on top of the mountain. The crew knew that if they did not get the patient out soon, this lifesaving VFR mission would soon become a life saving IFR mission. When SGT Smith had the patient ready and secured to the jungle penetrator, SSG Dixon carefully hoisted him up to the aircraft. The dry, blowing snow caused increased difficulty, but the experienced crew pressed on with the patient extraction. The crew got the patient inside the aircraft, and SSG Dixon lowered the hoist down again and extracted SGT Smith. SGT Smith was on the ground for only five to seven minutes, and was already starting to show signs of frostbite to his hands and face. Once the crew had the patient safely on board the aircraft, they proceeded to the Lake County Airport in Leadville, Colorado, and then to Butts Army Airfield, Fort Carson. This was the highest hoist rescue mission the 571st Medical Company had performed this year and was the first hoist rescue mission for three of the four crewmembers. The entire crew received Aviation Achievement Certificates from the Leadville airport manager for landing at the highest airport facility in North America. Among the other outstanding missions flown by DUSTOFF units and crews around the world were the following runners-up:
54th Medical Company (AA), Fort Lewis, Washington, 28 September 2000. Crewmembers: CW2 Toby Norris, CW3 Doug Gemmell, SGT Thomas Kunkle, SPC Robert Levine. A routine hoist mission became anything but routine when it became apparent that the 5,000-foot mountain range on which the patient was located on was totally obscured with a thick layer of clouds. With no pass available to cross the ridgeline to reach the site, they decided to fly at treetop level to maintain the best ground reference through the light fog. They crossed the ridgeline slowly by flying from one group of trees to the next. VFR conditions on the other side, zeroed out the gps to find no signs of the ground rescue team. After thirty minutes of searching along the mountain range, the medic saw the ground ambulance lights through the fog. Using the lights as a reference, they landed on a small pullout on the logging road. The ground rescue team briefed that a female had fallen approximately 100 feet and had a fractured ankle. The crew chief could see the patient. They flew toward the patient's location, 200 feet and a quarter mile from the landing zone. The aircraft commander lost all ground references on the right side of the aircraft. Using ambulance lights to the left through the fog as a reference, he flew the aircraft toward the rock wall until the rotor was about two disks from the rocks. Then he started a slow climb up the rock wall searching for the patient. He held the position about three feet from the rock wall for approximately ten minutes, as the patient was secured to the jungle penetrator. After the medic and patient were safely secured inside, the crew flew VFR on top to Madigan Army Medical Center, approximately sixty miles away. There, the patient left the aircraft with a smile and a thank-you for their efforts.
507th Medical Company (AA). Fort Hood, Texas, 6 August 2000, Crewmembers: CW2 Craig Dehls, CW2 John Burt, CPL Charisse Stinson, SGT David Clutter. The unit was alerted to deploy two aircraft and crews in support of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) wildland fire-fighting mission in Burgdorf, Idaho. The two 507th crews provided support for over 500 soldiers and over 600 nifc fire fighters. Many of the rescue hoist operations were conducted at 200 feet above ground level (AGL) in the midst of the extreme turbulence created by the unrelenting and extremely hazardous wildfires. On Sunday, August 6, 2000, at 1530 hours, DUSTOFF 19 (CW2 Craig R. Dehls (pilot in command), CW2 John S. Burt (pilot), SGT David O. Clutter (crewchief), CPL Charisse N. Stinson (medic), received another call from Burgdorf communications for a mission requiring the high-performance hoist for a patient with a back injury in a remote part of the Payette National Forest, where the terrain was extremely rugged and steep. With a half mile visibility through the thick, obscuring smoke, the crew performed two reconnaissance patterns (one at eye level and one at low level) over the extraction site to assess terrain, slope, tree height, and estimate the wind direction in the canyon. CW2 Burt finessed the helicopter through the perilous maze of treetops to a 200-foot AGL hover over the pickup zone, with the rotor blades missing the tree limbs by a mere ten feet. SGT Clutter tenuously lowered CPL Stinson down to the patient through the precarious web of tree limbs. The patient was stranded on a precipitous slope no further than twenty feet from the blazing brush. When CPL Stinson finished packaging the patient and was ready to evacuate him, she radioed on her PRC-90 survival radio for the helicopter. CW2 Burt repositioned the aircraft over the pick-up zone. SGT Clutter wove the hoist cable through the myriad of branches and began hoisting the patient to the helicopter. As SGT Clutter extricated the patient, two brush fires ignited out the left side of the aircraft because of the rotorwash. Through it all, CW2 Burt held the helicopter steady and minimized the pendulum effect of the patient suspended on the hoist. Only through masterful and innovative maneuvering was the crew able to extract and secure the patient out of the noxious smoke and away from the intense heat of the flames.
571st Medical Company (AA), Fort Carson, Colorado, 5 July 2000. Crewmembers: CW3 Steve Jeffords, CW4 Dennis Fletcher, SSG Carlos Sernas, SPC Ambrosia Hanes. Medevac operations received a call for assistance from the Archuleta County medical officials for a high-performance rescue, hoist-capable aircraft to extract a hiker who had fallen into a ravine approximately sixty feet while trying to scale a rock cliff face. The patient was incapacitated with unknown injuries and needed assistance immediately. This would be a difficult mission, due to the high altitude environment, and as it was starting to get late, so available light would soon become an issue. The aircraft commander knew this mission might turn in to a night-vision goggle operation, so he made sure his crew had Anvis-6 night-vision goggles on-board the aircraft. The crew departed Butts Army Airfield outbound to the site located approximately 140 miles southeast. When the crew arrived in the vicinity of the patient's location, they quickly conducted an aerial reconnaissance to determine the best approach into the area. They could see the hiker, who appeared to be in a stable area but was showing no signs of movement. The pilots maneuvered the aircraft into position over the patient while the flight medic and crewchief prepared for their part in this hoist rescue operation. When the flight medic, SSG Sernas, had secured himself safely to the jungle penetrator, the crewchief, SPC Haines, boomed him outside of the aircraft and proceeded to lower him and his medical equipment to the ground. On the ground, he determined that the patient had a broken pelvis and leg, and signaled for the aircraft to return to his location. SPC Haines carefully but precisely hoisted the patient from the cliff and into the aircraft. The crew refueled at the airfield and began the journey back to Fort Carson.
571st Medical Company (AA), Fort Carson, Colorado, 2 July 2000. Crewmembers: CW3 Dwight Greenlund, 2LT Phillip Lucero, SGT Alfonzo Maloco, SPC Ambrosis Hanes. On 2 July 2000, the 571st Medical Company received a call from El Paso County emergency rescue personnel, explaining that a male in his mid-twenties had been rock climbing near Manitou Springs, Colorado, in the Seven Falls Recreation Area. He had fallen approximately fifty feet and landed on a rock shelf that extended out from the face of the mountain. CW3 Greenlund, 2LT Lucero, SPC Haines, and SGT Maloco did a quick crew mission brief and started the aircraft. CW3 Greenlund noted to the crew that the outside air temperature was around 30 degrees (C). He knew his available power would be critical, due to the extreme heat and high altitude environment. When the crew arrived on scene, they determined that, due to the extreme altitude and outside air temperature, the UH-60A was operating dangerously close to its maximum capability for available power. Due to the extreme grade of the mountainside, the pilots had to be extremely cautious and execute precise maneuvers while operating in this unforgiving area as close to the jagged rock cliff that they could get without putting their own lives in danger. SGT Maloco strapped himself to the jungle penetrator, and SPC Haines boomed him outside of the aircraft and began lowering him down to the climber's position on the cliff face. When SGT Maloco was on the ground beside the injured climber, he began his medical assessment and initial treatment to stabilize his patient. SGT Maloco signaled to SPC Haines to send down the Sked litter. With the Sked litter with him on the ground, SGT Maloco began to prepare the patient for extraction. The two pilots kept the aircraft precisely over the pick-up zone, executing precision hovering, allowing the flight medic and crewchief to continue the hoist rescue operation with minimal difficulty. SPC Haines boomed the injured climber in and secured him safely inside of the aircraft. After SGT Maloco was safely inside the aircraft, the pilots repositioned away from the dangerous mountainside. The crew safely landed at the hospital, where they transferred the injured patient to Memorial emergency room personnel. Unknown to most was the fact that this was the first actual live mountain hoist rescue mission that any of these crewmembers had ever done.
236th Medical Company (AA), Landstuhl, Germany, 9 January 2000, Crewmembers: CW2 Christopher Frey, MAJ Jonathan Fristoe, SGT David Estrada, SGT Glenn Fryer. The first hoist mission in support of KFOR occurred on Sunday, January 9, 2000, with a call for a child who had been submerged under ice for approximately thirty minutes. The response time, off in eight minutes, enroute time of seven minutes, was excellent. The landing zone was east of Checkpoint Gulf, on the Serbian border inside the 5-km buffer zone. Locals were standing along the banks with sticks, trying to break up the ice on the river. No one could get to the actual hole in the ice where the child had last been seen. The crew decided to hoist Estrada down to try and break up the ice and see if he could see anything through the ice. They hovered up- and downstream searching, with no success. After several minutes, SGT Estrada saw what he thought was a coat and signaled to be lowered in an attempt to reach it. He went completely under-completely submerged in the frozen river. Unfortunately, what he had seen was only a bag. After some time, the crew had to pull its freezing teammate back into the aircraft and were able to warm him, preventing another casualty by not allowing him to become hypothermic. The crew returned to the site with the dive team on board under night-vision goggles, orchestrating search patterns across the river. The divers went under the ice, and back and forth across the water. Concluding that there was virtually no chance of rescuing this child if they could have found him, the crew returned to Camp Bondsteel through goggles, landing at 1947. Those in the Medevac business who fly these aircraft and perform these missions know how much is involved in hoist operations, and that day was no different. These missions don't always work out, as this one didn't. The glory usually goes to the folks who are involved in the ones that work out, but the crew on this mission were all heroes.
498th Medical Company (AA), Fort Benning, Georgia, 22 August 2000. Crewmembers: CW2 Trevell Wiggins, WO1 David Woodward, SGT Richard Stickels, SPC David Hernandez. While supporting the 5th Ranger Training Battalion at the Mountain Ranger Camp in Camp Merrill, Georgia, the 498th Medical Company (AA) received an urgent MEDEVAC request. A ranger candidate had been attacked by a swarm of wasps in a violent attack. His ranger instructors administered first aid and immediately requested a DUSTOFF. Within minutes, the crew was airborne, enroute to the point of injury. The medic was very concerned about the soldier's airway, as individuals who are allergic to insect stings can suffer respiratory arrest due to anaphylactic shock. The only suitable pick-up zone was a hole in the trees approximately ten by fifteen feet. The minimal opening in the trees made the hoist the only possible means of extraction. The pilot on the controls established a steady hover. The flight medic rode down on the jungle penetrator and quickly assessed the patient's status to ensure his breathing was not restricted. He then rapidly connected the injured soldier onto the jungle penetrator and hoisted him to the aircraft, saving a significant amount of valuable time. Upon further examination, over fifty stings were found on his body. The anaphylactic shock would have killed him, had it not been for the instinctive and rapid response of the outstanding MEDEVAC crew.