AZ Guard Helicopter Crew Assists in Rescue of Stranded Hikers

AZ Guard Helicopter Crew Assists in Rescue of Stranded Hikers

Members of the Arizona Army National Guard’s Detachment 1, C Company, 5-159th Air Ambulance, conduct hoist operation training at Meteor Crater located 20 miles west of Winslow, Ariz. Recovery exercise such as this provides training and experience in recovery and medical evacuation procedures. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Brian A. Barbour/RELEASED)

PHOEINX – An Arizona Army National Guard helicopter crew from Papago Park Military Reservation assisted local first responders in rescuing two stranded hikers here July 9.

Members of Detachment 1, C Company, 5-159th Air Ambulance responded to the Four Peaks Mountain to assist the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in rescuing a father and daughter that became stranded late Wednesday night.

“We train to conduct missions like this all the time,” said Army Sgt. John Simmons, operations sergeant for the 5-159th. “We are capable of conducting medical air support, and stand ready to respond when called upon.” 

The man's 25-year-old daughter called sheriff's deputies Wednesday after the pair had hiked into a rugged portion of the Four Peaks wilderness, northeast of the Phoenix area.  When the father began to experience a medical emergency a search and rescue medical team was flown in, bringing them blankets and supplies. Due to the terrain, weather conditions and time of day the rescue operations were postponed until Thursday morning.

At 7 a.m. Thursday the Arizona Army National Guard was contacted to assist with the rescue operation. The location of the stranded hikers and weather conditions made the mountain top extraction challenging.

“There are times when you know that Mother Nature is in control,” said Chief Warrant Officer 5 Andrew Smeltzer, UH-60 Blackhawk Pilot. “The wind conditions at that altitude made it difficult to reach their location. During this mission we used the terrain features to help guide us in to the site and maintain stability of the aircraft.”

Once on scene Army Staff Sgt. Antonio Bonillas, a flight medic with the 5-159th, was lowered down to the hikers’ location.

“The strong winds caused me to rotate as I was lowered to the ground,” said Bonillas. “Once on the ground I was able to assess the hiker’s condition. The mountain rescue team did a great job providing care to the hikers which allowed me to focus on the hoist operation.”

Once aboard the aircraft, the hikers were all smiles and giving thumbs up to the flight crew, relieved they were off the mountain.

“We train for situations like this all the time,” said Army Sgt. Gregory Host. “To have the opportunity to provide support to the citizens of Arizona during a time in need is truly gratifying.”

The Arizona Army National Guard (AZARNG) is made up of six brigades with approximately 5,100 Soldiers. The AZARNG continuously provides a trained and ready force capable of performing unified land operations and defense support to civil authorities.