MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
Members of the 54th Helicopter Squadron at Minot Air Force Base responded to a search and rescue call involving a man trapped in his cabin, surrounded by rising flood water in Savage, Montana, March 24, 2018.
At approximately 2 p.m. the crew received a phone call requesting a hoist-equipped aircraft to respond to the scene.
“We quickly came together and thoroughly discussed our objective, fuel considerations, timing, coordinates and communication,” said Capt. Vicente Vasquez, 54th HS UH-1N Iroquois pilot. “By the time we got in the aircraft, there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to get this guy out safely.”
Vasquez, the aircraft commander during the flight, said upon their arrival they saw the individual stranded in the center of the flood waters, standing on the deck of his cabin as the water steadily rose.
“Thanks to our accurate coordinates, we found the guy really quickly,” said Vasquez. “We analyzed the winds and realized we wouldn’t be able to land next to his house and walk him to the helicopter so we needed to hoist him up instead. We then established our hoist and lowered the doctor onto the house’s deck from about a 120-foot hover.”
After being lowered onto the deck, Maj. Jared Brinkerhoff, 23rd Bomb Squadron flight surgeon, immediately assessed the situation.
“When I got to the individual I quickly evaluated him to ensure he was in good condition,” Brinkerhoff said. “My main focus was to confirm he was alright and get him onto the hoist as efficiently and safely as possible.”
Brinkerhoff, who trains with the crew at least once a month for search and rescue missions, said his familiarity with how things work during exercises reassured him that things would go well during this particular mission.
“There’s a lot of planning and communication we do during training because safety is our top priority,” Brinkerhoff said. “When it comes to real-world situations we want to have that muscle-memory of ensuring everyone knows what to do and are aware of each other’s responsibilities.”
Likewise, Vasquez mentioned the crew’s prior training and mission readiness is what guaranteed the success of their search and rescue.
“We constantly train for live hoists, search scenarios and evaluating conditions at locations we’re unfamiliar with,” Vasquez said. “We train countless hours for searches before we even get to our operational units, so we’re all familiar with the concepts of search and rescue, which really helps us out there.”
The team transported the survivor to a nearby hospital where emergency responders and the individual’s family were waiting.
“The most rewarding moment was being able to see the man’s wife picking him up at the airport after we dropped him off,” Vasquez said. “We could see on her face that she was so grateful that he was alright.”
Vasquez added that the entire operation went well due to the combined effort from several men and women across Minot AFB.
“It was awesome to go out there and execute, but we had a lot of support around us that helped make it all a success,” Vasquez said. “There were several Airmen and contractors involved with a lot of the mission planning, maintenance, fuels and aircrew flight equipment. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.”