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Alaska Airmen rescue two people stranded in Kuskokwim River

  • Published
  • By Maj. Elizabeth Mangini
  • 176th Wing

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – The Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing rescued two people stranded in a small boat in the flooded and icy waters of the Kuskokwim River May 1.

Airmen with the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th, 211th and 212th rescue squadrons launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson a little before midnight in an HC-130J Hercules and HH-60G Pave Hawk. Using night-vision goggles and conducting three midair refuelings, the crews flew directly to the last reported location of the survivors.

Aboard the aircraft were four pararescuemen, highly trained in evacuating individuals, even in the most challenging conditions.

“They needed to be hoisted as quickly as possible because the rising floodwaters washed out their home and they were adrift in the dark, ice-filled river,” said Alaska Air National Guard Lt. Col. Keenan Zerkel, director of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.

Zerkel said the crews performed a hoist recovery from approximately 140 feet overhead to prevent the helicopter’s rotor wash from upsetting the boat. Once aboard, the two people were evaluated and determined to be uninjured. They were transported to Aniak and released to the Alaska State Troopers. The crews then returned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, after approximately five hours in flight.

The coronavirus will not prevent the highly trained men and women of the 176th Wing Rescue Triad and the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center from responding to people in danger throughout the state.

“Despite COVID-19, we maintain our ability to respond to the distress calls at a moment’s notice and have no degradation in our capabilities. We are Alaskans looking out for fellow Alaskans.” Zerkel said.