Apr 21, 2011
A five-man Search and Rescue crew from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 31 at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, China Lake, Calif., rescued an injured rock climber in Death Valley April 19.
The Search and Rescue (SAR) crew members responded to a distress call late in the day April 19. Death Valley National Park Service (NPS) dispatch notified VX-31 that they needed assistance to extricate an injured rock climber from the Willow Canyon area in southeastern Death Valley.
A young man in his mid-twenties was climbing with two companions in a slot canyon, approximately 10 feet wide by 40 feet high. He successfully navigated a set of ancient dried waterfalls and, while attempting to climb a second set, he slipped and fell approximately 30 feet, injuring his ankle. Far below and unable to help him, his companions contacted NPS rangers, who subsequently requested helicopter support.
Mission Commander Lt. Collin Fox responded with Lt. Brian Culver as co-pilot, medical technician HM2 Matthew Hawkins, crew chief AWS2 Bobby Price, and rescue aircrewman AWR2 Hermilo Perez.
The crew relied on NPS rangers to identify the general area and located the climber’s companions in a flat streambed after a 30-minute search through the rugged terrain. The crew quickly identified the injured climber’s position in a shadowed canyon adjacent to his companions.
“Although military SAR is our reason for being, we’re always ready to assist civilian search-and-rescue efforts,” Fox said. “This is a great example of the assistance we can provide on short notice.”
While the helicopter hovered above the narrow canyon walls, Perez was hoisted down, then unhooked before the helicopter departed. After conducting a medical assessment and fitting the hiker into a hoisting vest, Perez radioed for pickup, and the helicopter swooped in to hoist him and his patient to safety.
Helicopter rotors generated gale force winds and complicated the rescue, as loose gravel and rock pelted the two until they were lifted clear of the terrain. To prevent the aircrewman and survivor from spinning violently in the downwash, the helicopter flew forward and up, hundreds of feet over the desert floor, while the two were safely hoisted to the door and into the aircraft cabin. With the patient onboard, Hawkins administered preliminary medical aid as the man was air-lifted to the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.
“My flight crew performed very well,” Fox said. “Because of their skill, we had a relatively benign aerial rescue instead of a lengthy ground search and technically challenging, potentially dangerous climbing rescue by the NPS rangers. What’s more, we were able to get the patient to a hospital within 30 minutes, despite picking him up in some of the most desolate terrain in the country.” This is the eighth successful rescue performed by the VX-31 SAR crew team in the past twelve months.
NAWCWD Public Affairs