NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash– A Search and Rescue (SAR) team from NAS Whidbey Island conducted two missions Sunday afternoon beginning with a Medical Evacuation, followed by a mission at Mount Hoquiam in Grays Harbor County, where two SAR crewmen ended up staying overnight with an injured hiker due to deteriorated flying conditions.
Early that afternoon, the base’s SAR unit transported a 47-year-old man who sustained serious injuries in an accident involving an automobile and motorcycle. The patient was delivered to the air station by ambulance for emergency airlift to Harbor View Medical Center in Seattle.
Upon returning to the base following that transport, the SAR crew received another call for assistance from the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to rescue an injured man with a broken leg and possible compound fracture atop Mount Hoquiam in the Olympic National Park. Following a review of the forecast and vicinity of the hiker’s position atop the 4,200 foot mountain, the crew left the air station around 4:30 p.m. Once on scene they found two personnel at 3,000 foot level who indicated the hiker was at a higher elevation which was overed by a cloud layer.
After searching the area for about 15 minutes without finding the injured hiker, SAR located and picked up the survivor’s hiking partner, who had left the injured hiker to get assistance. The partner provided the location of the injured hiker and was lowered along with two SAR aircrew members as closely as possible to the injured hiker to attempt a ground evacuation via litter to an area clear of clouds. Realizing that the cloud ceiling was dropping and was predicted to deteriorate, the helicopter aircraft commander ensured the rescue team had enough supplies, communication equipment, and cold weather gear to get through the night. That proved insightful as the helicopter had to return to NAS Whidbey Island for the night due to the weather conditions.
The SAR rescue team was able to make it to the patient and stabilize him as they hunkered down for the rest of the night. A rapid ground rescue team from Olympic Mountain Rescue was also deployed to resupply their food and water and reached their position well into the night. Nonetheless, the rescuers were unable to extract the survivor by ground due to the challenging terrain and the survivor’s condition. The next day, a Coast Guard helicopter from Astoria, Ore., arrived and pulled out the injured hiker. An additional SAR helicopter from NAS Whidbey Island pulled out their two fellow SAR members, the uninjured hiker, and four county rescue personnel.
While the rescue from Mount Hoquiam was a challenge and an unusual test of the rescue unit’s capabilities, Lt. Jarad Wada, the aircraft commander for the Monday morning mission said, “Today was a great example of cooperation between Grays Harbor County, the Coast Guard, and the U.S Navy. It was a challenging environment, but the three groups worked seamlessly together and displayed great cooperation to execute the mission.”
Thus far this year, NAS Whidbey Island’s SAR has conducted seven MEDEVACs, 14 rescues and four searches.