YAKIMA TRAINING CENTER, Wash. – Soldiers assigned to the United States Army Air Ambulance Detachment- Yakima (USAAAD), 2-158th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade performed an aeromedical evacuation of a civilian near Cle Elum, Wash. on Aug. 15, 2023.
The mission started when a hiker began exhibiting symptoms of heat exhaustion and sent a distress message to the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office. After determining that the time required for a ground recovery would put the patient at further risk, federal support was requested through the Washington State Emergency Operations Center for a high-powered helicopter with hoist capability to recover the distressed civilian.
At 7:20 p.m., a USAAAD UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter departed Yakima Training Center for the hiker’s reported location in the Wenatchee National Forest, west of Cle Elum, Wash. The aircrew arrived at the location of the injured hiker at 8:00 p.m.
“The patient was at about 4,000 feet in rugged wooded terrain, but the visibility was unlimited, and the wind was manageable,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeffery Bear, pilot in command of the mission. “When we arrived at the patient’s reported location, there was no suitable landing area due to the complex terrain, so we deployed our flight medic by hoisting him approximately 80 feet down from the hovering helicopter.”
The aircrew orbited over the forest area while the flight medic linked up with the Kittitas County Search and Rescue personnel on the ground, assessed the patient, and prepared him for transport.
“The patient was conscious but had severe heat-related injuries and was showing signs of rhabdomyolysis,” Staff Sgt. Benjamin Byrd, the critical care flight paramedic on the mission, said. “Once I was able to get to him it was a straightforward evacuation. As soon as I made contact, I assessed his condition and prepared him for the hoist; thanks to the local search and rescue team pre-scouting a suitable area on the ground we were able to hoist him out quickly. I was on the ground for less than 10 minutes.”
After the patient and medic were extracted via hoist, the aircraft transported the patient to MultiCare Memorial Hospital in Yakima and then returned to Yakima Training Center.
“The [Yakima Training Center] range complex was in operation but we immediately had a back-up crew in place so that we could execute this mission,” Capt. Danielle McDermott, USAAAD’s Executive Officer and second in command, said. “Our aircrews drill on this scenario regularly, because our primary mission is still range coverage, but the extreme professionalism demonstrated by our Soldiers every single day enabled us to pull this patient out before darkness set in.”
The unit is based out of Yakima Training Center in central Washington. USAAAD operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide aeromedical evacuation support for thousands of service members training at Yakima Training Center each year.
Additionally, the detachment works with the Washington State Emergency Operations Center, local sheriff departments, and civilian volunteers to provide rescue coverage in central Washington’s remote wilderness areas.
The life-saving aeromedical evacuation is a collaborative effort. As a detachment with 33 personnel and four UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters, every member of the team is vital to USAAAD.
The 16th Combat Aviation Brigade operates two aeromedical evacuation units that provide defense support to civil authorities: USAAAD-Yakima in central Washington and Charlie Co., 1-52 General Support Aviation Battalion in central Alaska.