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NAS Whidbey Island SAR Responds to Mt. Herman Avalanche Call

NAS Whidbey Island Search and Rescue (SAR) Crew Chief, Daniel Ismay, a Naval Aircrewman Helicopter Second Class, completes final checks on the crew's Senior Medical Technician, Hospital Corpsman First Class Papalski, prior to his descent to an injured skier on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (U.S. Navy Photo by Hospital Corpsman First Class (HM1) Wayne Papalski)

01/27/16 12:00 AM

NAS Whidbey Island SAR Responds to Mt. Herman Avalanche Call

NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. – A five-person Search and Rescue (SAR) team from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island conducted a rescue mission on Mount Herman, near the Mount Baker Ski Area on Sunday, January 24, 2016. 

The NAS Whidbey Island crew launched early Sunday afternoon following an immediate assistance request from the Whatcom County Sheriff’s department to recover two skiers impacted by multiple avalanches in a backcountry area of Mount Baker.  Upon arrival, the crew located both skiers, approximately 100 yards apart, at 4,000 feet.  Based on the steep terrain, narrow valley, threat of subsequent avalanches, and high trees throughout the area, the crew opted to hover at 90 feet over the first skier to send down the SAR Medical Technician (SMT) via rappel.

Unfortunately, the crew found that the first skier unresponsive and had deceased as a result of the avalanche and quickly moved to the next skier who was seen moving farther down the mountain.  Based on the precise calls of the Crew Chief, the pilots moved the helicopter into position 150 feet over the second skier, surrounded by trees just feet outside of the rotor arc.

The SMT quickly assessed the second skier and readied him for airlift.  Once onboard, the crew headed direct to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash., while the three crewmen administered critical advanced life support treatment. 

“There was excellent coordination between our maintenance team at home, the ground crews at the ski area and the crew that enabled us to respond without delay and recover this skier,” said SAR Rescue Swimmer Naval Aircrewman Second Class Daniel Ismay.  The SAR Medical Technician, Hospital Corpsman First Class Wayne Papalski said the environment was really tough to work in. He also wanted to convey the crew’s heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased individual as well as best wishes for the recovery of the surviving skier. 

This was the second rescue of 2016 for NAS Whidbey Island SAR.  In 2015, the unit launched on 19 Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) missions, 11 searches and 7 rescues, resulting in 29 lives delivered to higher level care. 

NAS Whidbey Island operates the only assets in the region that combine a one-hour or less response time coupled with high-rappel and hoisting capabilities and in-flight advanced life support.  It is a true team effort with each flight hour requiring upwards of 12 maintenance man-hours conducted by 42 civilian and active duty maintainers.

The Navy SAR unit operates three MH-60S helicopters from NAS Whidbey Island as search and rescue platforms for the EA-18G aircraft as well as other squadrons and personnel assigned to the installation. The base also has an agreement to assist Washington State with medical evacuations and search and rescue activities.