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Air Force helicopter rescues Marble Creek rafter

WATERSPORTS — The benefits of living near an Air Force Base with skilled rescue helicopter pilots have paid off for recreationists, most recently in a one-weekend blitz to help a Pacific Crest Trail hiker as well as a Spokane Valley rafter on a tributary to the St. Joe River.

Airmen from the 36th Rescue Flight answered the call to save not only one, but two lives in one weekend. We're just getting the details.

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 enroute to the man's location.

Bart Rayniak, a retired Spokesman-Review photograher, had been kayaking near where Marble Creek flows into the St. Joe's River when his cataraft flipped, ejecting him into the cold water.

"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, a 36th RQF pilot, with the survivor on board, began an approach back toward the ambulance where Maj. Montsho Corppetts, a 336th Training Support Squadron medic, was waiting."

"I was never able to truly thank my rescuers," Rayniak told the base reporter. "They were so wonderful! 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 river and increase the hazard for floaters during high water, the only time Marble Creek is navigable for rafts and kayaks.

  • Rayniak has not been available for further comment to the S-R.

Friends recovered his cataraft the next day. The video in the post below indicates the velocity of the water and the hazards in the Marble Creek posed by a logging operation. A look at this brief video explains why Rayniak couldn't just swim to safety even though he was fully decked out with dry suit and life vest.

Two days later, on June 15, the crew received a call at approximately 11:30 a.m. that there was an injured hiker along the Pacific Crest Trail in Northern Washington needing quick extraction.

"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. "Fortunately, his hiking buddy was able to call for help."

Capt. Erik Greendyke, the 36th RQF operations supervisor, worked with Marshall to assemble a crew. The crew then launched at 1 p.m. and followed the Methow River past Mazama, Wash., to the hiker's location.

"Other hikers prepared a bright orange tent along the ridgeline that helped us immediately identify the area with minimal searching," Marshall said. "As soon as we rescued the injured hiker and his hiker buddy, the survivor was then loaded onto an ambulance with the help of Capt. Josiah Hart, the 36th RQF standardization and evaluation liaison officer, and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Poe, a 36th RQF special missions aviator, and departed for the hospital."

Helicopter rescue operations can be dangerous, 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.

"We take great effort to ensure rescues are executed safely and with as little risk as possible," Marshall said. "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."

Mountain Home fighter jets grounded 3 months by sequestration now back flying again

A squadron of U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters at Mountain Home Air Force Base that's been grounded for three months due to the federal sequestration budget cuts is now flying again, after Congress agreed to shift funds from overseas operations, the AP reports. Col. Chris Short, 366th Fighter Wing commander, called the move a "first step" toward regaining his squadron's combat capability after pilots for the past three months were confined to the base's four flight simulators. They can gain valuable practice there, but it hardly mimics the experience of actually flying above the desert faster than the speed of sound, he said. "The stand down had an immediate impact on our operational readiness, and it takes time to retrain aircrews to mission-ready status," Short said. "I'm happy to be flying again." Click below for a full report from Associated Press reporter John Miller.

Murray questions AF about retaliation against sex assault victims

During a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Patty Murray questioned Air Force officials about reports that nearly two-thirds of military women who reported sexual assaults were retaliated against by their commanders.

The answer by Gen. Mark Welsh, Air Force chief of staff, "we have to investigate that extensively." He also said the Air Force is looking at how to change its organizational structure.

At the beginning of the clip, Murray, D-Wash., offers condolences for the recent loss of the KC-135 tanker with the Fairchild Air Force Base crew over Kyrgyzstan and gets in a plug for bringing the first squadrons of new tankers to the West Plains base. 

Welsh said the decision on the first base for the new tankers is expected later this month.

Fired Breast-Feeding Advocate Sues

A Spokane mom and breast-feeding advocate says her former employer wrongfully terminated her after a media frenzy surrounding photos of two military moms breast-feeding in Air Force uniforms. Crystal Scott, a civilian and the program director for Mom2Mom Breast Feeding Support Group at Fairchild Air Force Base, said she was fired June 1 from her job as a mobile X-ray technician at Schryver Medical following a history of discrimination and harassment at the company. The termination occurred just weeks after she coordinated the photos, which went viral on the Web and stirred controversy at Fairchild. Scott said Schryver used her publicity as an excuse to fire her. Schryver countered that bad behavior on the job was the reason for the termination, saying Scott used company time to field media requests. Scott has filed a lawsuit/Chelsea Bannach, SR. More here. (Colin Mulvany SR file photo: Crystal Scott, pictured with her sons Aedan, 4, and Roman, 1)


Can you name this USAF aircraft?


Had lunch today with a guy who flew these early in his Air Force career.

Day after Air Force

Round two. First attempt at my day-after Air Force post vanished before my eyes. So here we go again.

Here are the links: S-R game story, photos. Other links of interest: Butler, two days after losing at GU, toppled Stanford, Saint Mary's lost to No. 6 Baylor, WSU thumped Pepperdine and Portland (visits GU on Wednesday) lost its sixth straight, falling to Nevada. 

Read on.

GU beats Air Force for 4th straight ‘W’

Gonzaga had its hands full with Air Force, which, as advertised, crisply ran its Princeton offense and made things difficult for the Bulldogs' offense for the first 20 minutes. GU used a 19-7 run in the second half to knock off the Falcons 70-60.

Here's a link to my game story. Check back tomorrow for my day-after post.

Zags, Falcons collide at McCarthey Athletic Center

Gonzaga continues its busy home schedule against visiting Air Force tomorrow. The Falcons, whose 6-2 start ties for the second best in school history, start four juniors and one senior. Junior forward Michael Lyons (18.4 ppg) leads the Mountain West Conference in scoring. Air Force went 16-16 last year, losing to Santa Clara in the CollegeInsider.com tournament.  

Here's a short preview that will run in Thursday's S-R.

Tankers lined up and ready to go


This picture was taken at a base in Kansas.

Sad stories that should not be forgotten

Many here recall the B-52 crash in the summer of 1994.

But the 1950s saw much more devastating (in terms of the loss of life) Air Force crashes at both Fairchild AFB and now defunct Larson AFB in Moses Lake.

Which ones do you remember?


Gay Idaho Officer Sues To Keep Job

Item: Gay Idaho Air Force officer sues to keep job: Victor Fehrenbach, based in Mountain Home, seeks to block his dismissal and overturn the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman

More Info: Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach turned to a federal court in Boise on Wednesday, seeking to strike down the 1993 law that mandates the military policy. Fehrenbach, with 19 years in the Air Force, learned last week that the Air Force Personnel Board recommended his discharge to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. His lawsuit says his admission of homosexual conduct was obtained under “coercive circumstances” and that he spoke to clear himself of false allegations of rape.

Question: Do you support the current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military?

AF: We like one tanker contract

Air Force officials told a Senate subcommittee they still don’t like the idea of “splitting the baby” on the new refueling tanker.

That’s not a surprise, because the Pentagon has been saying to anyone who will listen that they want to have one version of the replacement for the aging KC-135s. They want to take bids from Boeing and Lockheed/Grumman/EADS and do a winner take all. Problem is, certain members of Congress, particularly the head of a House military appropriations committee, don’t much want to listen.

Sen. Patty Murray — who is a big supporter of Boeing (it’s a mutual kind of thing) — wants just one contract, and took a Capitol Hill visit by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Norman Schwartz to get them to reiterate what they’ve been saying all along about a single contract.

They also got to repeat that they support a “fair and open” competition for the contract, which could be worth about $40 billion. This is hardly news, although it would be news if they would own up at some point to supporting a “rigged and secretive” competition, right?

So what about sending the new tankers — should they EVER get built — to Fairchild?

Answer inside the blog.

Tanker bids this summer?

The Air Force should be releasing the draft version sometime in May of its “request for proposal” on a new aerial refueling tanker.

That’s one of the things Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and members of the Greater Spokane Inc. delegation learned during their visit to the Pentagon today.

In a telephonic press conference this afternoon, McMorris Rodgers said Air Force officials said a new tanker, refered to as the KC-X, “remains the No. 1 priority.” They expect to award the contract, worth an estimated $35 billion, in the first half of 2010.

Talk of a new tanker has been bandied about since 2001, and has gone through several missteps, miscues and mess-ups. Some were the fault of Congress, others, the fault of the military.

“They recognize there have been some misstakes made,” McMorris Rodgers said.

The latest iteration has some powerful members of Congress suggesting the Air Force split the deal between Boeing and Norhrop-Grumman-Airbus, to avoid the Texas death match the two airplane manufacturers are locked in…