40th Helicopter Squadron Makes Rescue during Independence Day Weekend

Members from the 40th Helicopter Squadron participate in a search and rescue training exercise Nov. 5, 2014. The 40th HS recorded their 408th rescue July 5, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot)
Members from the 40th Helicopter Squadron participate in a search and rescue training exercise Nov. 5, 2014. The 40th HS recorded their 408th rescue July 5, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Joshua Smoot)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. -- A UH-1N Iroquois crew assigned to the 40th Helicopter Squadron here rescued an injured female hiker in the Big Horn Mountain Range roughly 15 miles west of Buffalo, Wyoming, July 5 at approximately 5:20 a.m.

The rescue marked the 408th save for the 40th HS.

The aircrew consisted of two pilots: Capt. Matthew Finnegan and Maj. Jeffery Miser; two special mission aviators: Staff Sgts. Ryan Oliver and Daniel Marchick; and one flight surgeon: Capt. Melonie Parmley.

The aircrew was dispatched after a rescue was requested through the Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. The 40th HS was then directly contacted and the rescue mission was approved by Col. David Smith, the 582nd Helicopter Group commander at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, which the 40th HS falls under.

"The ground team would have been too slow," said Finnegan, the aircraft commander and chief of current operations at the 40th HS. "There were no other assets to get to her before we could."

The aircrew was notified at approximately 12:15 a.m. and took off at 1:30 a.m. to rescue the female hiker who had sustained minor injuries and needed to receive emergency medical care.

Despite the early morning call, this is what the 40th HS Airmen train for.

"You kick into gear and just go," Marchick said. "When I got to the squadron, I didn't even go into the building. I just started pulling equipment and gear out of the lockers for the flight." 

At 5:20 a.m., the injured woman was hoisted out of the rocky Big Horn Range and flown to Sheridan, Wyoming.

"It was a fairly tough mission for the time of night and conditions," Finnegan said. "But the crew worked well together and their training kicked in." 

At an altitude of 9,600 feet, the air becomes thinner and the blades require a higher power to perform properly, Marchick said. 

"We were pushing the helicopter to its limits due to the altitude," said Marchick, who had to support the mission from a radio on the ground. "We found a field and stripped the helicopter bare. We took out the seats and extra gear and even crewmembers. Every little pound counted."

After maneuvering the helicopter into the mountain range, the aircrew encountered another obstacle.

"The concern was not smashing the dock and flight surgeon into the side of the mountain," said Oliver, who operated the hoist to lower Parmley to the injured hiker.

The rescue site was between the steep cliffs of the mountain side, where large boulders created an unstable landing surface for the hoist operator to lower the dock down to retrieve the injured woman.

"I had to lower the flight surgeon in the dock to the rescue site with only 140 feet of cable," Oliver said. "Usually we have more cable, but due to terrain restrictions we had to work with what we had."

The mission's success is never a because of a single reason, Oliver said. "It's from the maintenance crew to the aircrew's training and communication. Communication is huge.

"Training makes days like this a little less nerve-wracking," Oliver added.

The female was transported from the helicopter to an ambulance at 5:50 a.m. and was taken to Sheridan Memorial Hospital, Whyoming.

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