40th HS, search and rescue

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Nine thousand feet above sea level, a UH-1N Iroquois Huey hovers over the side of a steep mountain in Montana as Capt. James Richardson, 40th Helicopter Squadron pilot, and Staff Sgt. Eric McElroy, 40th HS flight engineer, use a grease pencil to mark locations on a large folded map.

The mission that day was a search and rescue, also known as a SAR, to locate an aircraft that crashed into a mountain.

McElroy recalled the four feet of summer snow he was dropped into as he was hoisted down to the ground from the helicopter.

“(The victim) needed help and we needed someone to get down there,” Richardson said. “McElroy volunteered without hesitation and we were able to get the woman out of the wreckage.”

Richardson said they used almost every bit of fuel they had to get the woman to the hospital, with very little fuel to spare.

McElroy was later awarded the Cheney Award, which honors an Air Force member for an act of valor, extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice in a humanitarian interest, performed in connection with aircraft, but not necessarily of a military nature.

“One thing we excel at as a crew is making those big decisions and figuring it all out as a crew,” McElroy said. “It takes every single person, including the flight doctor, to make those decisions to figure out what’s the best and safest way we can get everyone back into the aircraft and back home safely to their families.”

Missions like these are what the members of the 40th HS train for, in addition to the security mission they support here at the 341st Missile Wing.

An assigned crew is on alert every day, 24/7 year-round, prepared to respond to any mission that comes their way.

“We are a part of the national SAR plan and it is a stated mission for us,” Richardson said. “We have to make sure we can still maintain the mission we have with the wing, but it is something we do regularly and take a lot of pride in and do a lot of training for to make ourselves better at it.”

Since its inception in 1968, the squadron has been credited with more than 416 saves.

According to Tech Sgt. Michael Duffney, 40th HS flight engineer, the 40th HS is one of only two locations in Montana that is capable of using a hoist and litter to perform search and rescues.

“A lot of the time, especially in Montana, there are areas where helicopters can’t land,” Duffney said. “With the exception of Two Bear Air in Kalispell, (we) have the only hoist capable aircraft in the entire state.”

With such a unique capability, training is conducted often with local law enforcement to sharpen their skills and keep the crews ready for almost any mission.

“Training includes unprepared landing sites, hoist operations, working with flight doctors and scenarios to perform searches,” Duffney said. “Doing this on a regular basis helps keep our skills honed.”

McElroy, Richardson and Duffney all take pride in their job and enjoy where they are and what they do for the Air Force and the community.

“People come from all over the world to see parts of Montana and we basically consider this our back yard,” Duffney said. “Any day out here flying is an awesome day.”

McElroy said the opportunities he has had and the people he has met while stationed at Malmstrom has been nothing short of magnificent.

“The huey community is an excellent community,” McElroy said. “We’re incredibly genuine people that care about each other and care about what we do.”

Richardson said he has learned some great things from great crew members in his time here.

“I think the knowledge level of everybody here is incredible,” Richardson said. “I’ve learned something from everyone here, the area we get to fly in is amazing, the espirit de corps is very high here and I would not want to be anywhere else as a new pilot or flight engineer.”