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Helicopter crew starts new year with rescue

by Senior Airman John Parie
341st Space Wing Public Affairs

1/7/2005 - MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. (AFPN)  -- A UH-1N Huey search and rescue crew from the 40th Helicopter Flight and 341st Medical Group here recorded their 355th save on a mission in southwest Montana Jan. 3.

Following several failed rescue attempts by civilians using a helicopter and a snowmobile, Malmstrom's crew received a request Jan. 2 to assist in the rescue of a man who had suffered a broken leg during an avalanche near the Idaho-Montana boarder Jan. 1.

The team consisted of Maj. Rod Melzer, aircraft commander; Capt. Richard Allison, co-pilot; Tech. Sgt. Al Davis, flight engineer; Lt. Col. Steven Goff, flight surgeon; and 2nd Lt. Mark Sqrague, flight medic.

"Two miles away from the location, low visibility conditions around the mountain peaks forced us to pull back and land," Captain Allison said. "We waited on the ground for 20 minutes for the weather to clear, which increased our visibility of the mountain."

Once the clouds lifted, the crew began their ascent up the mountain. They then began searching for the rescue crew on the ground that was caring for the injured man. During the search, they were forced refuel at Bozeman.

"We dropped Lieutenant Sqrague off at (a hospital) in Bozeman to cut down on weight inside the helicopter to increase the aircraft power margin ... and the added weight of the injured man," Sergeant Davis said.

The crew then headed back up the mountain to continue their search. They eventually spotted the rescue party waving a yellow sleeping bag near a make-shift landing zone.

Once the helicopter was over the site, the rescue crew on the ground formed a make-shift helipad in the snow to assist in its landing.

The landing zone was at 8,200 feet, which tested the capabilities of the aircraft, officials said. The thinner air at higher altitudes reduces the aircraft's overall power.

Major Melzer set the helicopter down in the snow while the rest of the aircrew helped him keep an eye on all the trees that surrounded the campsite.

After being loaded onto the helicopter, the injured man thanked the entire crew, Sergeant Davis said.

"When I pulled the (stretcher) onboard, the man just kept saying 'thank you' over and over again," Sergeant Davis said.

The crew then flew to Bozeman, to drop the injured man off and pick up Lieutenant Sqrague.

"The real heroes were the rescue team on the ground who prepped the traumatized cross-country skier for flight and stabilized him for the trip," Major Melzer said.

"It feels real good to start the year off with a win like this," Captain Allison said.

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