JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — The Alaska Air National Guard rescued four distressed hikers from Crow Pass Trail, which runs between Girdwood and the Eagle River Nature Center, July 20.
The hikers had reached approximately the halfway point and were substantially low on food. They didn’t have enough for the journey back or to continue forward. Additionally, one of the hikers experienced arthritic knee and ankle pain, which caused him to become increasingly concerned.
Two other hikers reported the situation along the trail, which used an inReach satellite communication device to send the GPS location to the Alaska State Troopers. After receiving the distress call, the Troopers requested assistance from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, asking for the Air National Guard’s help with the mission.
The AK RCC coordinated the departure of two pararescuemen of the 212th Rescue Squadron aboard an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter of the 210th RQS. The aircraft departed JBER shortly after the mission notification, and the hikers at Crow Pass were quickly located.
“They had made a makeshift S.O.S. symbol out of some branches,” said Senior Master Sgt. Brandon Stuemke, the Team Lead pararescueman on the mission. “They broke them all off, and in a clear area where there was a contrast of dark soil and the green branches, they made the S.O.S.”
The helicopter landed in the clearing to evacuate the hikers, who were picked up, transported and released at Alaska Regional Hospital.
Approximately two hours after the leaving base, the Guardsmen returned and the mission was closed.
“If you go hiking someplace and get distressed, this is Alaska, be prepared with a little extra food, water and basic first aid,” said Stuemke. “Rescue crews do not get there immediately, so it could take a substantial amount of time, especially with poor weather conditions.”
Stuemke said the low clouds and light rain during this mission were manageable for the seasoned Alaska Air Guardsmen. Still, in worse conditions, it may have taken longer to locate the individuals, emphasizing his recommendation for ample preparation and gear.
He also recommends having a solid trip plan and return date shared with a friend or family member, and a way to contact help if needed, such as an inReach device.
“The land is remote anywhere you step off the trailhead here in the state, so you need to be prepared to take care of yourself while waiting for help.”
The AK RCC, 210th RQS and 212th RQS were each awarded four saves for this mission.