OUTRESPOND – The benefits of living near an Air Force base with skilled helicopter rescue pilots and medics have paid off for Inland Northwest travelers and recreationists many times in all four seasons.
Most recently, the airmen from the 36th Rescue Flight, answered two calls in a one-weekend blitz to help a hiker as well as a Spokane Valley rafter.
On June 13 at 5:30 p.m., the crew received a call that a kayaker was stranded 70 miles southeast of Fairchild Air Force Base, according to a report by Airman 1st Class Janelle Patiño of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs.
Within a few hours, the crew launched the UH-1N Huey and was en route to the man’s location.
Bart Rayniak, a retired Spokesman-Review photograher, had been catarafting Marble Creek, which flows into the St. Joe’s River, when his boat flipped, ejecting him into the cold water. He was fully decked out with a dry suit and life vest, but unable to safely reach shore.
“There were some challenges that occurred during the rescue due to the weather, but the crew of Rescue 48 never gave up,” said Maj. Jennings Marshall, the 36th RQF commander. At 8:30 p.m., Capt. Nate Jolls flew the survivor to an ambulance where Maj. Montsho Corppetts, the team’s medic, was waiting.
“I was never able to truly thank my rescuers,” Rayniak told the base reporter. ”They put their lives on the line to save mine. They were amazing flyers and crew. They were professional and caring. Damn good at what they do. I will always be grateful.”
A logging operation this year apparently has caused logs to slide into the creek and increased the hazard for floaters during high water.
Friends recovered Rayniak’s cataraft the next day from the very fast water where it was pinned among log debris.
On June 15, the Fairchild crew rescued an injured hiker needing quick extraction along the Pacific Crest Trail northwest of Mazama, Washington.
“He had been walking along a steep and snowy section of the trail when he slipped and tumbled down the mountainside, hitting a tree and breaking several ribs,” Marshall said. “Other hikers prepared a bright orange tent along the ridgeline that helped us immediately identify the area with minimal searching.”
Helicopter rescue operations can be dangerous, he said, but the 36th RQF crews constantly train to maintain proficiency in rescue operations as part of the mission to support the Air Force’s only Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school.
“Our normal training missions take place at Fairchild and in the Colville National Forest and we have been tasked to perform civilian rescues throughout the Pacific Northwest in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana,” Marshall said.