A SAR crew member bends down to pick up a stranded climber in the deep snow atop Mount Baker during a rescue June 4, 2018
NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. - A Search and Rescue (SAR) team from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island rescued four people on Mount Baker, Monday, June 4, 2018.
The SAR crew was notified of a climbing party of two adults and two teenagers last seen on Mount Baker near Roman Wall early Monday morning.
By approximately 9:30 a.m. the SAR team of six had found the climbers on the summit of Mount Baker. The climbers were taken onboard the SAR helicopter and transported to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington for higher care.
"Due to the conditions this was definitely one of the most challenging rescues I've been on," said SAR mission commander Lt. Chris Pitcher, originally from Ferndale, Wash. Pitcher said the summit of the mountain was just clear of the clouds, but the window of opportunity was closing. "The fog bank on the northwest side was creeping in," he said. Wind, the high altitude, and the weight of the crew and rescued climbers on board were additional challenges.
"It took us utilizing every member of our crew at the maximum limitations of our helicopter," said copilot Lt. Matt Schwab a native of Mount Vernon, Wash.
The SAR crew worked in conjunction with a U.S. Customs air unit, which used a forward looking infrared system, to help identify the stranded climbers. "We were grateful to have the U.S. Customs air unit aiding in the rescue," said Pitcher.
After identifying the four people on the summit as the stranded climbers the SAR helicopter landed. Crew members helped the climbers onboard before transporting them to St. Joseph's Medical Center.
NAS Whidbey Island SAR, has now conducted nine rescues and four searches for 13 total missions throughout Washington State this year.
The Navy SAR unit operates three MH-60S helicopters from NAS Whidbey Island as search and rescue/medical evacuation (SAR/MEDEVAC) platforms for the EA-18G aircraft as well as other squadrons and personnel assigned to the installation. Pursuant to the National SAR Plan of the United States, the unit may also be used for civil SAR/MEDEVAC needs to the fullest extent practicable on a non-interference basis with primary military duties according to applicable national directives, plans, guidelines and agreements; specifically, the unit may launch in response to tasking by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (based on a Washington State Memorandum of Understanding) for inland missions, and/or tasking by the United States Coast Guard for all other aeronautical and maritime regions, when other assets are unavailable.