JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – As beautiful and thrilling as hiking in the mountains is, it can be equally as dangerous. Thus, the mutual aid contract was created between Company F, 2nd Battalion, 135th Aviation Regiment, an Army Reserve Unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and its surrounding communities.
The Army Reserve unit has a mutual aid contract with the National Park Service to provide rescue operations above 10,000 feet on Mount Rainier. In addition, the unit also has a partnership with the Air Force Reserve’s 304th Rescue Squadron, at Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, which provides trained ground rescue personnel.
NPS generally reaches out to JBLM for mass casualties or situations that require getting on top of the cloud deck to perform the rescue.
“The relationships with the Mount Rainier NPS and 304th RQS are positive, as each organization brings a high level of professionalism and continues (to) for other military training missions,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 David McCrumb, a CH-47 Chinook instructor pilot from Company F, 2nd-135th. “The Seattle Terminal Radar Approach Control also establishes temporary flight restrictions, if requested, and provides weather/flight conditions at altitude.”
The unit, with 14 Chinook helicopters, along with Mount Rainier climbing rangers, perform two to three rescues each year. To date, the highest elevation rescue was at 14,400 feet -- 11 feet below the peak.
Rescue capabilities vary, depending on the severity of the terrain and weather conditions. In some cases, if the team members can’t land, they rely on a hoisting operation. Occasionally, a cadaver dog is on board to assist with body recoveries.
According to Bryan Campbell, an Aviation Support Facility supervisor at JBLM, who is assigned to the 11th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, Colo., one of the most memorable rescues came when the team performed two separate rescues during one flight. After retrieving a climber with a broken leg on Disappointment Cleaver (approximately 11,500 feet), one of the most popular routes to the summit, the team was asked to look for a second missing climber around Liberty Gap (approximately 13,700 feet).
Fortunately, the team saw a small stake sticking out of the snow and found the second climber. He had developed hypothermia and couldn’t walk, but the team members were able to return both climbers to Madigan Army Medical Center.
“Generally, the climbers have succeeded in summiting Mount Rainier, and it is the down climb/descent that they need assistance with,” Campbell said.
The SAR mission is not only helpful to the community, but also to the pilots and flight crews. It provides real-world training in a high-altitude, mountainous environment which is very difficult to simulate, according to McCrumb.
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- Editor’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series on Joint Base Lewis-McChord's mutual aid agreements with our community neighbors.