Rescue crew re-creates dangerous mission

Posted: Friday, April 18, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A sports camera crew is in Alaska filming a much different but perhaps even more challenging endeavor members of the Alaska Air National Guard as they fly a helicopter next to mountain walls and lower pararescue jumpers to the rocks below.

The NFL Films crew is working on a documentary for the History Channel about a difficult rescue of an injured climber in the St. Elias Mountains north of Yakutat in June 2002.

To shoot a re-enactment, the NFL cameramen went along on training missions of the 210th Rescue Squadron from Kulis Air National Guard base in Anchorage.

The 210th, whose members pulled the climber off Mount Augusta last year, accommodated the cameramen by staging mock rescues at Mount Susitna (Sleeping Lady'') across Cook Inlet on Monday and at Ptarmigan Peak, a dozen miles southeast of downtown Anchorage, on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Mock patients lay in the snow or on a ledge awaiting rescue. Rescuers parachuted from an HC-130 Hercules rescue tanker at Mount Susitna. An HH-60 Pavehawk lowered others to prepare the practice victims in both locations to be hoisted into the helicopter.

Clouds and winds made the exercise at Ptarmigan dicey, said Master Sgt. Garth Lenz, chief of the jumpers.

It was really dramatic,'' Lenz said Wednesday. The hoists were not just your easygoing hoists. They had to battle 40-knot (46 mph) winds.''

The rescuer being lowered to the pretend victim in the North Gully of Ptarmigan scene of a double-fatality climbing disaster six years ago was swinging from side to side, he said.

It might be a little dangerous, but it's great for us because that is the conditions we do that in,'' Lenz said. The training environment was perfect.''

The filmed events, however, were only modest re-enactments of the pretty harrowing'' rescue on Mount Augusta on the Alaska-Canada border, said Air National Guard spokesman Maj. Mike Haller.

On June 17 last year, a Montana climber, Jack Tackle, fell about 50 feet on a steep rock slope, injuring his face, chest and arm.

Tackle's partner, Charlie Sassara of Anchorage, lowered Tackle to a camp and stayed with him through the night. The next day, Sassara rappelled much of the 2,000 feet down to their base camp, where he called for help.

Weather stymied Canadian rescuers who wanted to fly in from the north, but a Pavehawk crew was made it through a thick cloud layer to find Tackle, who was cocooned in two sleeping bags inside a tent tied to a 60-degree slope.

He was a little speck on a major big wall,'' Lenz said.

What made the rescue harrowing is that the Pavehawk was operating with minimal fuel at a high altitude at the very edge of power availability,'' he said. Plus there were clouds above and below it.

Then there were the rocks falling off the cliff face.

Again, the pararescue jumper lowered from the chopper was swaying from side to side, forcing the Pavehawk's pilot to pull forward a bit to get the swinging under control.

Once down to Tackle, the rescue jumper quickly opened the tent and clipped the climber onto the hoist.

The helicopter reeled in climber and rescuer as quickly as possible, then the pilot raced toward a rendezvous for a midflight refueling, Lenz said.

Tackle was flown to Yakutat, where the Hercules took him to Anchorage and a waiting ambulance.

The History Channel may feature the Mount Augusta event in the late fall, Lenz said. The 210th Rescue Squadron is likely to get more out of the film than mere entertainment.

The final product can be used as part of the crew's training, he said.

It gets passed between the teams for years.''

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