Air National Guardsmen delivered a pregnant woman to safety after she was hurt in a snowmobile accident in remote western Alaska on Monday — the latest of nearly two dozen publicized Guard rescues in the state this year.
As is often the case for winter emergencies in Alaska, helping the injured woman was no simple feat.
She was stranded in Kipnuk, a tiny Native Alaskan village of around 700 people, which is only accessible by boat or plane via a single-runway airport. It’s remote enough that Google Maps offers an error message when searching for driving directions.
A regional hospital in Bethel, the closest city at about 100 miles away and without roads in or out, called for military assistance.
The Alaska Air National Guard’s 210th and 211th Rescue Squadrons dispatched an HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter, and an HC-130J Combat King II, the service’s only fixed-wing search-and-rescue plane.
Rescue attempts such as these can take several hours, especially in bad weather. While the temperature hovered just above freezing on Monday, aircrews faced fog, clouds, wind nearing 30 mph and a wintry mix of precipitation.
“In order to span the distances of the state to deliver lifesaving pararescue personnel, HH-60s rely on the HC-130′s ability to deploy refueling drogue to provide fuel midair to the helicopters,” the Alaska National Guard noted in December 2020. “While the Combat Kings can fly above the weather and provide route reconnaissance information, Pave Hawk pilots have to often fly through the weather.”
The HC-130J crew arrived in Kipnuk first and airdropped medical supplies to locals on the ground to stabilize the injured woman. A Pave Hawk crew followed suit with two pararescuemen to treat her.
They spent an hour stabilizing the patient so she could be loaded onto the helicopter for evacuation, the Guard said in a release.
Flying the woman 100 miles to Bethel in the HH-60G, then another 400 miles in the HC-130J to an ambulance at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, was particularly treacherous because of the conditions found in the state’s mountain passes, Senior Master Sgt. Evan Budd, superintendent of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, said in the release.
JBER paramedics drove the woman the last 10 miles or so to the nearby Alaska Native Medical Center for treatment, earning another save for the units involved.
There is no word yet if the baby will be nicknamed “Combat King.”
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.