CAMP MURRAY, Wash. – A Washington National Guard Black Hawk helicopter crew rescued three people injured following a rockslide Aug. 2 in hilly terrain just south of Mount Rainier. It was a rare domestic helicopter rescue for the Guard, which happened to have Soldiers on duty during a drill weekend when other rescue helicopters were unavailable.
One of the injured people happened to also be in the National Guard, bear hunting with friends. 2nd Lt. Darien Konzelman said he and three friends went bear hunting Aug. 1 about 12 kilometers north of Packwood. It’s an area one of his friends had hunted for decades.
As he and friends were setting up camp, they heard a rockslide. Then, a radio call from their 68-year-old experienced hunter friend that he needed help.
“I ran down there and he had fallen off the trail down this rocky ravine, tumbled a good 40 feet,” said Konzelman, who works on Camp Murray with the 194th Intelligence Squadron. “I climbed down there because I knew this guy was just going to be really injured. I got down there. He had multiple head wounds and ... his temple and his face and hands were bloody.”
Konzelman provided basic first aid and used some of the skills he learned from officer school, including how to check for concussions.
That’s when another of his friends started coming down the ravine, twisted his foot and accidentally triggered more rocks to fall.
“This big rock comes down and it’s about to hit us bad,” Konzelman said. “By pure instinct, I jumped in front of my friend to protect his head. And it crushed my arm and knocked us both down the ravine further. I lost my medical kit and backpack and got back up and he was screaming.”
Together, the friends helped get everyone back up to the campgrounds, sending their one uninjured friend out to hike to get a better signal to call for help.
“We hunkered down for the night and waited for help,” Konzelman said.
First thing Sunday morning, a sergeant with the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office contacted the Alert & Warning Center on Camp Murray and requested air support. With one of the go-to search and rescue helicopters unavailable, state duty officers reached out to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to see who was available for help.
By chance, a key pilot from the Washington National Guard with the right hoist certifications and training was on site – Travis Marzolf, Chief Warrant Officer 3, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation.
“This just happened to be on our drill weekend, so I was there,” Marzolf said. “Not only do you have to be qualified, but you also have to be current in your training and do a live hoist every 90 days. Since I work as an instructor full-time, I happen to be qualified and current.”
Marzolf said while he and his crew got a Black Hawk helicopter ready for the hoist mission, another Black Hawk helicopter was sent ahead to scout and see what help could be given.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jeff Brandsma, also with Charlie Company, said he and a couple of medics scouted the area in another helicopter to see if they could find Konzelman and the other injured hunters.
“It was really rugged terrain, with a lot of steep slopes – and there were also a lot of hikers out there,” Brandsma said. “We’d fly by and people would wave and we’d be looking down trying to see if that was them or just someone wanting to say ‘hi.’”
Circling the area for about 20 minutes, Brandsma said they were able to find the injured hunters and also a flat spot without many trees to land the helicopter. A medic and medical assistant were able to hike down to the group and prep them to be hoisted out by the second helicopter.
“Here, I see this Black Hawk – and I’ve been in one before – and I am, like, is this the Guard? My Guard? And they’re rescuing me?” Konzelman said. “I just had a big smile because I knew everything was going to be OK.”
Marzolf credits Brandsma and his crew for arriving first and giving accurate directions to find the injured hunters. He says the actual rescue took less than 30 minutes.
“It was a perfect day with calm winds and Mount Rainier in the distance,” Marzolf said. “It’s great working with professionals to go out and do the job that you train consistently to do. The way we train someone new, it’s a lot of talking and pausing and I’ve done this in Afghanistan and done this for 14 years and I know, once you’re there, the little things just click in and everyone knew how to do their jobs.”
Brandsma says only the Guard’s Black Hawk, UH-60L, is able to do hoist missions, not the newer UH-60M models. As a result, there aren’t as many pilots trained to do them.
“Really, there was some semblance of luck here,” Brandsma said. “When the call comes, you want the most experienced crew that is readily available. And that’s who we had here. Travis and his crew just did an amazing job. These are the calls you hope you are close for because real-world domestic missions are few and far between.”
Konzelman said he and his friends are doing better. Everyone was transported to the hospital to be checked out. His friend who fell down the ravine has diabetes and was on blood thinners, so everyone was worried about him. Konzelman says the doctors identified some severe back issues, but they have hopes for him.
The fourth hiker and a couple of his brothers retrieved their hunting and camping gear.
Konzelman had his right arm crushed.
“I’m going to be OK,” he said. “I’m not really thinking about me. This has been a job well done by the Guard, and I was very impressed with their competence and how they treated people and how they took care of us. Really, this couldn’t have gone better, given the circumstances. Hats off to them and a huge thank you for coming out and rescuing all of us.”