3 Missions, 2 Days, 5 Lives Saved for Alaska Air Guard Rescue Crews

212th Rescue Squadron pararescue

A US Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 210th Rescue Squadron, Alaska Air National Guard, conducts aerial refueling from a US Air Force HC-130J Combat King II assigned to the 211th Rescue Squadron, AKANG, over Alaska, Sept. 9, 2021. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Emily Farnsworth.

Senior Airman Emily Farnsworth/Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

A busy summer of rescues in Alaska hit a crescendo recently when pararescuemen and flight crews from the Alaska Air National Guard carried out three rescues in two days, retrieving five people from plane crashes and hunting accidents.

The busy two days of rescues came on the heels of a rare double-rescue day for a single alert crew in late July.

“It’s probably the busiest summer I’ve seen since I came on board in 2018,” David Bedard, a 176th Wing spokesperson, said. “I could only speculate why but if I did, I’d speculate that as COVID reduces as a factor, people are making up for lost time.”

The busy two days started Aug. 11, when a Cessna 172 — a small airplane used extensively in the state — crashed about 20 miles south of Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula, according to the Alaska Air National Guard.

212th Rescue Squadron Alaska Air National Guard

A helicopter from the 212th Rescue Squadron lands near Anchorage, Alaska. The 212th and other Alaska units rescued five people in three missions over two days recently. US Air National Guard photo by David Bedard.

US Air National Guard photo by David Bedard.

An HH-60 helicopter from the Guard’s 210th Rescue Squadron responded with two pararescuemen, or PJs, from the 212th Rescue Squadron on board. Both fall under the 176th Rescue Wing, as does the 211th Rescue Squadron, which flies HC-130 tankers.

Once at the scene of the crash, the PJs found the occupants were uninjured, and the crew flew the survivors to Anchorage.

The next day, a Guard HH-60 with PJs on board responded to an injured hunter 55 miles south of Fairbanks. The team transported the hunter to a hospital just outside Fairbanks.

Mountainside hoist

In a 2020 picture, an Alaska Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter hoists a pararescueman from the 212th Rescue Squadron and a distressed hiker. US Air National Guard photo.

US Air National Guard photo.

Later that day, another Guard helicopter and PJ team launched to a second crashed Cessna 10 miles north of Palmer. The pilot’s spouse had called to report the plane missing. Once contacted, the pilot was was able to guide rescuers to the plane’s location with a satellite communication device.

With no easy spot to land nearby, the PJs were lowered down to the wreckage to recover the pilot for the return trip to Anchorage.

The busy weekend came two weeks after a single helicopter and PJ crew responded to two separate plane crashes in a single day. The first crash was a pilot and a passenger at Tustumena Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. The second crash site was at Chakachamna Lake, about 90 miles west of Anchorage. To reach the second site, an HH-60 rendezvoused with an HC-130 tanker of the Guard’s 211th Rescue Squadron for air-to-air refueling.

Both aircraft had set off emergency locator transmitters after they’d crashed. One person in the first crash was injured.

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Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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