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Rescue coordination center team assists in mission that saved 60 hikers

by Angela Pope
AFNORTH Public Affairs

8/9/2011 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Severe weather on July 29 flooded a hiking path on Mount Whitney near Lone Pine, Calif., leaving 60 hikers stranded.

Officials with the California Emergency Management Agency reached out to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center here for assistance.

"Although there was a large number of individuals in danger, this mission was just like any other for us," said the AFRCC's Capt. Roy Porter. "We followed the same checklists and procedures we always do for crises like this."

One of the requirements CEMA specialists needed for supporting assets was a helicopter that could reach altitudes of at least 10,000 feet. AFRCC controllers researched units in the area and found one that had such a helicopter: the Navy's Air Test Evaluation Squadron Three One at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, just 90 miles from Mount Whitney.

An SH-60 helicopter and its aircrew from VX-31 joined in the rescue efforts along with the Inyo County Search and Rescue Team, the Inyo County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Forest Service, which also provided a helicopter to aid in the rescue. The helicopters dropped rescue personnel off on the mountain and returned to Lone Pine Airport to await further requests for assistance.

Despite the treacherous conditions, all the hikers and rescue personnel were able to hike down and off the mountain safely when the weather cleared a few hours later. There were no serious injuries, and only one person had to be treated for hypothermia.

"Under such adverse conditions, and with the large amount of water coming down the trail, we are very fortunate that there was only one hypothermic victim, and that there were no more injuries or fatalities," said Inyo County Sheriff Bill Lutze.

(The U.S. Forest Service contributed to this article)



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