Weather hampers search

CES paramedic aboard missing LifeGuard helicopter

Posted: Wednesday, December 05, 2007

 

  A Providence Alaska Medical Center LifeGuard Alaska BK-117 air ambulance lands last year at Central Peninsula Hospital, where it has been stationed since March 2006. With four people aboard, the craft was reported missing over Prince William Sound on Monday night. Photo by M. Scott Moon

A Providence Alaska Medical Center LifeGuard Alaska BK-117 air ambulance lands last year at Central Peninsula Hospital, where it has been stationed since March 2006. With four people aboard, the craft was reported missing over Prince William Sound on Monday night.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Soldotna paramedics and other medical professionals from Central Peninsula Hospital were anxiously awaiting word Tuesday on the fate of a missing LifeGuard helicopter with four people aboard.

Severe weather conditions continued hampering the search for the missing helicopter last heard from early Monday evening as it passed Esther Island in Prince William Sound en route from Cordova to Anchorage with three crew members and one patient.

Their names were not released, but it was learned that a paramedic from Central Emergency Services in Soldotna, Cameron Carter, was a crew member along with the pilot and a flight nurse. Carter's parents in Palmer had been notified that their son was missing.

Low clouds Tuesday afternoon prevented aircraft aerial searches.

"The weather is bad enough we can't get into any approaches in Prince William Sound," said Col. Dave Lowell, director of operations for the Alaska Air National Guard.

The twin engine BK 117 medevac helicopter was flying to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage and reported its situation to be normal with an estimated time of arrival in 27 minutes Monday evening.

Following that transmission, satellite communication was lost, according to a press release from the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

As standard practice, LifeGuard aircraft crews provide position updates every 10 minutes, but after two reports were missed, the flight was considered overdue at 5:15 p.m. Monday.

An HC-130 Hercules airplane from Kulis Air National Guard Base was deployed to the last-known location of the medevac helicopter, but due to bad weather, the crew was only able to conduct an electronic search for the LifeGuard helicopter.

An HH-60 Pavehawk helicopter from Kulis was sent to assist in the search, but weather conditions forced it to return to base.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Sycamore was heading to the last known location and three vessels under the direction of Alaska State Troopers were heading out from Whittier to assist with search and rescue.

Bad weather continued to hamper search efforts Tuesday, with wind gusts close to 60 mph.

At the time the medevac helicopter went missing, the National Weather Service buoy just south of Esther Island recorded sustained winds of 25 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph.

The patient's condition and the reason for the flight were not immediately known.

CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale said two CES paramedics Carter and Shawn Killian work with the Soldotna-based medevac helicopter on their off shifts from CES.

"Carter has been with us about three years," Hale said on Tuesday. "He is a damned good paramedic and engineer."

Hale said the LifeGuard helicopter is equipped "with more survival gear than medical equipment."

He added that if the helicopter went down over land, the area is "extremely rugged terrain."

Killian was on his way to a conference at Providence hospital Tuesday afternoon and could not be reached for comment.

LifeGuard Alaska is an air ambulance service operated by Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage.

The missing helicopter has been based at CPH since March 2006.

Hospital employees conducted a prayer vigil for the helicopter crew and patient Tuesday afternoon, according to CPH spokeswoman Bonnie Nichols.

"We're just holding onto hope and we have a lot of fear," Nichols said.

Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek@peninsulaclarion.com.



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