Storms, Altitude Sickness, Bad Weather In Wrangell Mountains Require Multiple Rescues

Injuries, Strandings, Altitude Sickness, Frostbite, Helicopter Rescues... All A Part of 'Getting Back To Normal' This Summer At The ...

Injuries, Strandings, Altitude Sickness, Frostbite, Helicopter Rescues...

All A Part of 'Getting Back To Normal' This Summer At The Park 

Many of us who live in the Copper Valley are well aware of the dangers of rescue efforts during bad weather. Typically, though, people think of weather as being "bad" in the wintertime. Yet, as May blended into June this year, the most ambitious high altitude rescue that was ever done in Alaska occurred in the Copper Valley in Wrangell-St. Elias Park. It was springtime – but an Alaskan spring is not necessarily that gentle time when a sudden rainstorm is all you have to worry about. According to a story in the Anchorage Daily News, it took four days to bring about a rescue of twelve mountaineers who were stranded. Eight of them were adventurers and four were guides. They had wound up on a glacier. Two had altitude sickness and a third had minor frostbite. The sheer logistics of this rescue, which took place on Klutlan Glacier, is said to have never been matched in Alaska. The altitude variables seem to have added to the rescue's difficulty. The Klutlan rescue, which took place, finally, on June 2nd, followed several other rescues, also in Wrangell-St. Elias Park. The first rescue is chronicled elsewhere in the Journal and took place May 27th. On May 31st there was a second rescue. And finally, there was the massive June 2nd rescue. 


May 27th, 2021
After an injured hiker was rescued at Wrangell-St. Elias when a bevy of helicopters swooped in to help him, two others were still left stranded elsewhere. (Original story elsewhere in this Journal.)

May 31st, 2021
On May 31st, the National Park Service sent out a press release about the two other people needing to be rescued:

Two Men Survive Being Stranded by Weather in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park 

Copper Center, AK—At approximately 2:00 a.m. on May 31st, the Air National Guard Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (AK RCC) coordinating with the National Park Service (NPS) Search and Rescue Team rescued two men stranded by weather near Mt. Hawkins in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.   
62-year-old pilot James Feola from Cassville, NY and 62-year-old passenger Frederick Northup from Fairfield, NY took off at approximately 10:30 a.m. on May 29th from Talkeetna, AK in a Cessna 182 in route to Yakutat, AK.  
 
At approximately 1:35 p.m. on May 29th, the International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC) notified the NPS Alaska Regional Communication Center (ARCC) of receiving SOS and ‘rescue needed’ messages from an InReach device from the vicinity of Mt. Hawkins in the Chugach Range in the national park.   
 
Assistance was requested of Paul Claus, chief pilot and owner of the Ultima Thule Lodge, to locate the plane, but the search was unsuccessful due to weather.  The NPS also requested assistance from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center (AK RCC). The AK RCC coordinated with the 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons who already had aircraft in the area, responding to a mountaineering incident near Mt. Bona.   
 
An Alaska Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter with a Guardian Angel team of pararescue personnel on board and an HC-130J Combat King II based out of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, AK attempted to access the crash site multiple times, but were unsuccessful despite several attempts in the afternoon and evening.   
 
At approximately 2:00 a.m. May 31st, NPS was notified that the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter had reached the men and they had been rescued and were en route to a local Anchorage, AK medical center for treatment.  AK RCC reported to the NPS that the passenger and pilot were cold but had only minor injuries.   
  
In a separate incident, the NPS is still actively coordinating with AK RCC responding to three mountaineers stranded by weather conditions and currently at 10,000 ft. on Klutlan Glacier near Mt. Bona.  Rescue efforts continue in coordination with the Alaska Air National Guard, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Search and Rescue Team, Ultima Thule Lodge, and St. Elias Alpine Guides. 
 

June 2nd, 2021
Several days later, the Alaska National Guard sent out a press release about not just three, but twelve mountaineers who were also rescued:

Alaska National Guard Rescues Stranded Mountaineers On Klutlan Glacier in Wrangell-St Elias 


Alaska Air and Army National Guardsmen rescued 12 stranded mountaineers on Klutlan Glacier, southeast of Mt. Bona in Wrangell-St Elias National Park, June 1.

The rescue response was initiated at 7:55 a.m. on May 29 when the National Park Service requested support from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center after receiving an inReach personal locator beacon notification from mountaineers experiencing high-altitude sickness and adverse weather conditions.

The 176th Wing, Alaska Air National Guard, initially launched a 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and a 211th Rescue Squadron HC-130J Combat King II, each with a 212th Rescue Squadron Guardian Angel team of pararescue personnel on board.

High winds, snowfall and low visibility over Klutlan Glacier precluded multiple attempts by the Pave Hawk to reach the mountaineers. In response, the Combat King II attempted an airdrop of medical supplies through the weather to sustain the mountaineers until rescue personnel could reach them.

On the evening of May 30, the AK RCC requested “high altitude, heavy-airlift” support from the 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment, who dispatched an Alaska Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook with a paramedic from the 2nd Battalion, 211 Aviation Regiment, on board.

The Chinook conducted multiple attempts to reach the mountaineers while the Combat King remained overhead to provide weather reconnaissance and wind reports.

More than 20 sorties were conducted, and 80 hours flown by crews basing out of Gulkana Airport and forward deploying to McCarthy Airport to seek alternate routes through the weather. The NPS and Gulkana Fuel were instrumental in coordinating  logistics to include beddown, food and fuel at Gulkana.


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