Heroic, hazardous rescue by 40th Helicopter Squadron

  • Published
  • By Kiersten McCutchan
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
An Air Force helicopter crew located and extracted a missing hunter Monday near Hamilton, Montana, concluding a search by ground and air search and rescue groups that began Saturday night.

The 40th Helicopter Squadron received a request Sunday to assist a Ravalli County search and rescue ground party for a 77-year-old man who became separated, and then missing, from his hunting party.

The request for search and rescue air assistance was given final approval by the 582nd Helicopter Group, F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, at 10:20 a.m.

A UH-1N Iroquois helicopter assigned to the squadron, left Malmstrom with five aircrew aboard and flew 155 miles southwest from Great Falls, Montana, to look for the man believed to be in the mountains between the Bitterroot National Forest and the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

The helicopter returned to Malmstrom late that evening but had not located the man.

A fresh crew departed Malmstrom Monday morning to continue the search.

Aboard the helicopter were 40th HS pilots Maj. Robert Meeks and Capt. Andrew Carpenter; flight engineers Staff Sgts. John Klusek and Alex Graves and flight surgeon Maj. Andrew Timboe, 341st Medical Group. Timboe had also participated in the Sunday search.

The man was spotted from the air at 3 p.m. in the Daly Creek area of Skalkaho Pass, 29 miles east of Hamilton.

"The squadron was doing a sweep of the area when they found him," said Staff Sgt. Jacqueline Moore, 341st Missile Wing command post noncommissioned officer in charge.

"Graves saw him in the bottom of a coulee, just barely visible," said Maj. Brandon Barkauskas, 40th HS operations supervisor and assistant director of operations.

Barkauskas said once the man was sighted and identified, the crew then utilized a 230-foot hoist down into a 7,400 foot drainage area.

"This rescue was pretty hazardous because of terrain and altitude," Barkauskas said.

Maj. Timboe stabilized the survivor, who was incoherent and unresponsive according to Barkauskas.

The aircrew then transported the man to a hospital in Missoula, Montana, delivering him at 4:45 p.m. The helicopter returned to Malmstrom at 8 p.m.

All individuals involved in the rescue efforts handled the situation in a timely, brave and professional manner, said Barkauskas.

I truly believe we saved a life this weekend," said Lt. Col. Bryan Tuinman, 40th HS commander. "We also saved a family from losing a loved one."

According to Timboe, the man likely would not have survived the night if he had not been found.

He also said the rescue was one of the most rewarding moments in his career

"Ravalli County in Hamilton -- their ground SAR team was awesome," Barkauskas said. "They were able to provide good situational awareness and guide us to where we needed us to be the entire time."

"For each of the crew members who rescued him, it was their first save," Barkauskas said. "Knowing and understanding how challenging the environment was, and then how the crew performed was nothing short of heroic."