Rescue Group Airmen help save hiker in Chiricahua National Monument

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alex Miller
  • 355th Wing

A joint rescue mission with the 563rd Rescue Group, the Arizona Cochise County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team and the Arizona Department of Public Safety saved an unconscious and severely hypothermic 57-year-old hiker at the Chiricahua National Monument in Wilcox, Arizona, Jan. 8, 2022.

CCSOSAR were notified of a missing hiker around 7 p.m., Jan. 7, and hiked towards his last known location along with the AZDPS’s rescue helicopter searching from the air. The hiker was located and needed to be extracted, but the AZDPS’s rescue helicopter could not land due to the high winds and tall trees in the area. The CCSOSAR needed a helicopter with a rescue hoist.

The 563rd RQG’s 55th Rescue Squadron was notified at 3:49 a.m., Jan 8, and responded with their HH-60G Pave Hawk equipped with a rescue hoist with a 200-foot cable, four aircrew members and two pararescuemen from the 48th RQS.

“The Cochise County Search and Rescue Team stayed with the unconscious patient until we were able to arrive the next morning,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Justin Wood, 48th Rescue Squadron pararescueman. “Due to the terrain, we had to hoist down from 150 feet off of the ground to the patient’s position to get him situated into our stretcher and hoisted him back up into the helicopter.”

The HH-60 hovered at an elevation of around 7,300 feet with wind gusts up to 30 mph in the steep, rocky terrain of the Chiricahua Mountains, the largest mountain range of Arizona’s Sky Mountains. This added to the challenge of rescuing the hiker.

The HH-60 pilots and enlisted aviators were graduates of the Army’s High Altitude Aviation Training School (HAATS), which was critical to the safe and expedient hoist work. This training is designed to increase situational awareness and abilities in high density altitude and rough terrain operations.

“Communication between personnel in the aircraft and on the ground was paramount to a successful rescue given the 20-minute time constraint we were faced with too, due to fuel considerations,” said Wood.

The hiker was rescued in time and regained consciousness in-flight after being unconscious for almost 17 hours. The hiker was transported to Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

“While it’s great to have a mission where we bring strategic impact to the Air Force down range, it’s very rewarding to be able to contribute to the local community while at our home station,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Tyler Wilson, 55th Rescue Squadron pilot, aircraft commander for the mission.

This mission wouldn’t have been successful without the newly activated 55th Rescue Generation Squadron’s maintenance Airmen, who got the HH-60 prepared in record time.

“Maintenance is an intricate part of making sure our aircraft are able to perform at the highest levels when lives are on the line in less than ideal situations,” said Wood. “Without them we would not have been able to perform our mission and help others in need.”

This is the first rescue collaboration for the 55th RQS and 55th RGS under Air Combat Command’s Combat Oriented Maintenance Organization model, which expedited the response time to help save this hiker’s life.