After a sheep hunting trip went sideways on Aug. 11, members of the 176th Wing of the Alaska Air National Guard were called on to execute a daring rescue near Tonsina, approximately 165 miles east of Anchorage.
The two hunters found themselves in an untenable situation as they clung to a cliff, shown in the photo above, unable to move to safety.
The hunters’ quick thinking led them to send out an SOS signal using a two-way satellite communication device. The call for help was picked up by the Alaska State Troopers, who alerted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
The AKRCC called upon the expertise of the 176th Wing.
The rescue team, comprising members from various units, was dispatched using a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and a 211th Rescue Squadron Lockheed HC-130J Combat King II, both manned with elite 212th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel pararescue men. The crew also had with them U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Weltman of the 57th Rescue Squadron, joining from Aviano Air Base, Italy.
Upon approaching the site, the team had to tread carefully. Major Benjamin Leonard, piloting the 210th RQS HH-60, noted the danger of rotor-wash affecting the stranded hunters, which ruled out a direct overhead hoist.
After assessing the situation, the rescuers were inserted onto the site to prepare the hunters for the hoist. One hunter had managed to find shelter on a rock, while the other was precariously clinging to a ledge.
Tech. Sgt. Michael Rogers of the 212th RQS PJ and Sgt. Weltman had the task of setting up a belay line for the trapped hunters.
After successfully securing the hunters, the special mission aviators aboard the HH-60 managed to hoist both the pararescuers and the stranded hunters.
The hunters were then ferried to the Alaska State Troopers at Mile 65 of the Richardson Highway. The mission was extended as the Lockheed HC-130 refueled the HH-60 in the air, amplifying the helicopter’s range.
The 212th Rescue Squadron is the Department of Defense’s busiest rescue force, and is part of the 176th Wing and consists of elite pararescuemen (PJs), combat rescue officers (CROs), and SERE specialists. These PJs and CROs undergo intense training, similar to the Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs, and don the unique flash patch on their berets.
Photo credit: Alaska Air National Guard Maj. David Bedard.