Guardian Angel team aids in high-altitude rescue in Washington State

  • Published
  • By Capt. Leslie Forshaw
  • 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs
Air Force Reserve Guardian Angel members from the 304th Rescue Squadron, Portland, Oregon, combined forces with a U.S. Army Reserve CH-47 Chinook helicopter unit, out of Joint Base Lewis McCord to rescue a stranded climber June 1, 2017.

According to the National Park Service, the experienced mountaineer, who is also a member of Canada’s national police force, was rescued by the Army helicopter along with 304th RQS GA members, 24 hours after he separated from his climbing party near the summit of Mount Rainier.

The request for assistance came in from the National Park Service to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, for an Army CH-47 rescue helicopter and 304th RQS capability. The 304th RQS notified their alert team and began prepping for the mountain rescue.

“We were alerted of the potential mission in the morning, briefed and started loading our mountaineering gear,” said Staff Sgt. Kevin, 304th RQS pararescueman.

Once prepped, the GA team of two 304th RQS pararescuemen, Kevin and Staff Sgt. Ross and one 304th RQS combat rescue officer, Capt. Zachery, linked up with the CH-47 crew and made their way toward Gibraltar Rock, near the summit of Mount Rainier.

“I was very impressed with the coordination and execution of the mission,” said Kevin. “From years of experience navigating the region, the helicopter crew knew the remote parts of the mountainous terrain so well, they had no trouble navigating through the unfavorable weather system rolling in.”

The joint rescue team loitered for approximately 10 minutes near the climber’s location, waiting for a break in the weather, Kevin said. Once the cloud layers opened slightly, the team was able to spot the climber’s headlamp, positively identifying his location.

The Army Reserve pilots positioned the helicopter over Gibraltar Rock and hoisted the pararescue team leader, Ross, down to the stranded climber. The man was identified as a 27-year-old constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. After recovering the climber, Ross and Kevin provided medical treatment enroute to Madigan Army Medical Center.

According to Senior Master Sgt. Josiah, 304th RQS pararescueman, this rescue was unique in that it was the very first joint mission between the 304th Rescue Squadron, the Army Reserve helicopter unit and the National Park Service on Mount Rainier.

“There was lack of an organic hoist capability inside the National Park Service on Mount Rainier,” Josiah said. “We reached out to the Army Reserve CH-47 unit and the National Park Service and formed a very synergistic relationship.”

“This was an outstanding opportunity to make a positive impact in our local community and build joint service partnerships,” Josiah continued. “It’s what we love to do.”

The U.S. Army Reserve unit already had a Memorandum of Understanding with the National Park Service to fly in the National Park restricted airspace; now the 304th Rescue Squadron has a similar MOU and Operational Plan to work together with the Army Reserve helicopter unit.

“The rescue was extremely rewarding because of its unique nature," said Kevin. "It’s a reminder of why we train so hard and believe so strongly in our rescue motto, ‘That Others May Live.’”

The 304th RQS is a 920th Rescue Wing geographically separated unit. The Wing has three GSUs to include the 943rd Rescue Group, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; the 304th Rescue Squadron, Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon; and the 920th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia