FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska – Soldiers assigned to the Downed Aircraft Recovery Team within Delta Company, 1-52 General Support Aviation Battalion, recently assisted in the effort to recover a Coast Guard helicopter that crashed in a remote area.
The Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed on Read Island in southeastern Alaska during a search and rescue mission Nov. 13. The four crew members aboard were treated at a Seattle hospital and have since been released.
“Following the crash, the Coast Guard made a formal request for recovery assistance,” said Maj. Bryant Knef, operations officer for 1-52 GSAB. “The intent of the request was for the DART to provide a team to help develop a plan for the salvage of CG 6016 and assist with the disassembling and packaging of the aircraft for transport in a safe and efficient manner.”
A three-person Army team conducted a site survey Nov. 24-26 as the first step in the recovery operation. During the site survey, the Army team, in conjunction with the Coast Guard, determined the logistical feasibility and potential risks and hazards and developed a plan for recovering the aircraft.
Potential challenges for the recovery effort included tide level, weather, dense foliage, the aircraft condition, and the distant location of the crash site. The remoteness of the site—an uninhabited island approximately 21 nautical miles north of the port town of Petersburg and 80 miles east of Sitka—necessitated the involvement of numerous organizations. In addition to the Coast Guard and Army, the U.S. Forest Service, National Weather Service, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Petersburg Fire and Rescue, and independent contractors also contributed to the recovery effort.
After surveying the location of the crash, the Army team traveled to Coast Guard Air Station Sitka to analyze a fully mission capable MH-60T Jayhawk to help determine the difference between it and the UH-60L/M Blackhawks the Soldiers primarily work with.
“The site survey determined that the main fuselage of CG 6016 needed to be reoriented upright to load it onto the recovery vessel. It also confirmed the size of the team that was needed to conduct the recovery operation,” Knef said.
The recovery mission took place Dec. 3-9, with the bulk of the party consisting of nine DART personnel, led by 1st Lt. Caleb Kifer, DART officer in charge, and five Coast Guard personnel, led by Lt. Cmdr. Justin Neal, salvage officer.
Daily travel to and from the island consisted of a 1.5-hour boat ride each way via a contracted ferry service. The initial site preparation required the team set up a shelter for tools, equipment, and a dry space for the team to rest in and to clear the remaining brush and logs from the trees felled by the U.S. Forest Service to enable removal of the helicopter.
That dry space was critical for the team, given the prevailing weather conditions in the region.
“It was about 33 F and rained the whole time,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Anderson, DART noncommissioned officer in charge.
After the site was prepared, it was necessary to disconnect the tail of the Jayhawk from the main fuselage. The team then shifted the aircraft upright using ratchet straps, chains, tow straps, and come-alongs.
In one of his daily reports to the 1-52 leadership, Kifer noted, “While rolling the fuselage, it was determined that a second tree had speared through the fuselage and was pinning it to the ground. That tree was cut, allowing the fuselage to be rolled upright.”
A contracted excavator was then brought to the island to lift the main fuselage and tail section onto a recovery vessel. Once the two primary sections were removed, the recovery team collected all remaining debris by hand and loaded it onto the vessel before departing the island mid-morning Dec. 8.
“Partnering with Delta Company, 1-52 GSAB’s Downed Aircraft Recovery Team for the salvage and recovery of our helicopter was a game-changer,” said Neal. “Their specialized skills, professionalism, and expertise turned what seemed like a daunting salvage operation into a well-executed success.”
According to Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Mike Salerno, the helicopter is en route to Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where investigators will further examine the airframe as part of their investigation of the incident.