JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Airmen with the Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons assisted with the transportation of a pregnant woman in labor from Nulato, Alaska, July 28.
The woman was 25 weeks pregnant with twins and had gone into early labor.
The urgent nature of her condition required that she be transported to a hospital capable of handling her situation, explained Senior Master Sgt. Rob Carte, a senior controller with the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center.
The Alaska RCC was contacted by LifeMed at 7:45 a.m. because weather prevented them from landing in Nulato.
“The combination of our HC-130 and HH-60 rescue teams can often get into locations in Alaska where other aircraft cannot due to bad weather,” explained Carte. “With Forward Looking Infrared Radar technology and highly experienced aircrews, the Air National Guard is often the most technologically advanced search and rescue organization in the state.”
The Air Guard accepted the mission and dispatched an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter from the 210th Rescue Squadron and an HC-130 King aircraft from the 211th Rescue Squadron, each with a team of Guardian Angels from the 212th Rescue Squadron on board.
“The HC-130 flew ahead to scout weather patterns and relayed the information to the following helicopter,” Carte said.
Not only does the HC-130 support missions by providing weather information, but it also serves as a mid-air refueling capability for the HH-60 when missions require refueling over long distances. Due to the weather on this mission, the HH-60 was not able to rendezvous in the air for refueling, forcing the helicopter to land in McGrath for fuel.
“Unfortunately, after topping off their tanks, the helicopter encountered a mechanical problem that prevented them from continuing the mission,” Carte said.
The HC-130 also was not able to land in Nulato because of the weight of the aircraft and the condition of the gravel runway, he explained.
With both aircraft unable to get to Nulato, the Alaska RCC turned to their contingency plans and called several partner agencies to find the best alternative.
“Ultimately, we turned to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska Fire Service for help,” Carte said. “The nearest military helicopter was in Nome, so the BLM airplane was much closer.”
The Alaska Interagency Coordination Center quickly approved the use of a contract aircraft operated by Suburban Air in Galena. The HC-130 landed in Galena, and the Guardian Angel team from the HC-130 loaded into the contracted aircraft and departed for Nulato, where they began treating the woman at 1:30 p.m.
After the initial treatment, the Guardian Angels loaded the woman onto the contracted aircraft and returned to Galena, where she was transferred to the HC-130, which then flew her to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. There, she was met by an ambulance and taken to the Alaska Native Medical Center.
“Without the extremely well-coordinated effort of all our rescue partners around the state, we could never have the success rate we do,” Carte said. “The efforts of everyone involved in this case prevented those babies from being born in Nulato, where survival of pre-term newborns is unlikely. A big thanks and job well done to the whole team at BLM and Suburban Air, as well as the brave aircrews of the 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons.”