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AK Air National Guard rescues 6 stranded on glacier near Paxson

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MSgt Karen J. Tomasik
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Members of the Alaska Air National Guard's 176th Wing on Monday hoisted the stranded snowmachine riders into a HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter hovering over the College Glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range. It's the same method they used to rescue an injured hunter on Sept. 8 from a remote area about 285 miles northwest of Anchorage, as shown in this photo of the rescue.

Alaska Air National Guard crews out of Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson rescued six snowmachiners Monday who were stranded on a glacier in the Eastern Alaska Range near Isabel Pass, just north of Paxson. The Air Guard crew then medivacked one of the snowmachiners to an Anchorage hospital for treatment of injuries.

Alaska State Troopers launched the rescue operation after they got a report at around 7:15 Monday night that a group of six snowmachine-riders was stranded in the mountains east of milepost 200 of the Richardson Highway. That’s about 75 miles south of Delta Junction.

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Alaska Air National Guard
The 176th Wing also dispatched an HC-130J Combat King II aircraft on the Monday night rescue mission to accompany the HH-60, to refuel the helicopter en route to the glacier and to provide reconnaissance and other assistance. The plane, a variant of the C-130, is shown here at the Palmer Municipal Airport during the 2022 Great Alaska Aviation Gathering in May.

According to a Trooper report, the S-O-S message from the snowmachiners said they were out of fuel and not dressed for the weather and that one of them was going into hypothermic shock. Troopers then contacted the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, which dispatched an HC-130 plane and HH-60 helicopter to rescue the group.

“The conditions up in that area were relatively clear, so good for flying. Except there was no natural illumination -- there was no moon,” says Alaska Air National Guard spokesperson Alan Brown. He said when they got to the remote area, the C-130 crew fired an illumination flare so they could get a better look around. He said then they spotted the snowmachiners on the College Glacier, about four miles east of the Richardson Highway.

“They were able to hoist the injured one up immediately,” Brown said, “and then our pararescuemen were able to guide the remaining five snowmachiners to a safer spot on the glacier, where the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter was able to land and pick them all up.”

The Trooper report says the helicopter brought the five uninjured snowmachiners to the turnout off the Richardson Highway at milepost 197. Brown says the helicopter then took the injured member of the group to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage for treatment.

Troopers were unable to provide the names of the rescued snowmachiners.

Brown said Guard members from the 176th Wing's 210th, 211th and 212th Rescue Squadrons participated in the rescue.

Tim Ellis has been working as a KUAC reporter/producer since 2010. He has more than 30 years experience in broadcast, print and online journalism.