FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – A helicopter crew from the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Site located a group of lost hikers.
At about 9:30 p.m. May 24, Dauphin County emergency dispatchers contacted Muir Army Airfield’s operations tower to report three hikers were lost on the Rattling Run Trail near Fort Indiantown Gap’s training area.
The hikers did not have appropriate gear for the weather, which was about 57 degrees when they called 911. The cell phone battery of one of the hikers had already died, and the other two were running low.
The hikers told the dispatchers they could hear a helicopter flying overhead, and the dispatchers requested the helicopter’s assistance.
The airfield contacted the helicopter – a CH-47 Chinook from EAATS – to continue flying the same pattern to locate the hikers. With the help of night-vision goggles, the Chinook crew found the hikers in about 15 minutes and guided rescuers on all-terrain vehicles to them.
The helicopter was piloted by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kyle Kephart and Ron Henry, both instructor pilots at EAATS. Staff Sgt. Robert Prigel, an EAATS instructor, was in the back of the aircraft with two students: Staff Sgt. Anthony Bearoff of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Company B, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, and Staff Sgt. Kyle Waller of the Illinois National Guard’s Company B, 238th GSAB.
Kephart said they were in the air for about 30 minutes on a routine training flight when they got the call about the lost hikers.
“We didn’t see them on the first pass,” he said. “On the first pass, we were down pretty low, and they were kind of up on the high ground. It was on the way back that we decided to do a higher pass and check the ridges, and that’s when we saw their flashlights.”
The crew forwarded the hikers’ coordinates back to Muir and came up to a high hover to avoid blowing debris on the hikers. They could see vehicles making their way down the trail toward the hikers.
“We assumed they were probably rescue vehicles looking for them, so we turned our white searchlight on and flashed it a few times and just hovered there,” Kephart said.
Henry said the crew located the hikers within their planned route. He said the maneuvers were part of the course they were already conducting.
“The tasks are terrain flight, terrain flight deceleration, and that’s what we did,” said Henry, who retired from the Pennsylvania National Guard in 2008 and has been an instructor pilot at EAATS for over 20 years.
Kephart and Henry said it felt good to be able to help people in need.
“It was good training – real training for the students to be out there practicing what we train to do in a real-life situation,” Kephart said. “It’s really the best test of their skills to be out there helping the community and also training on what they’re here to learn.”
“Anytime you see real-world results, it’s a little more satisfying,” Henry said. “When you know you assisted with helping somebody, it’s a satisfying feeling.”
The hikers were uninjured.