It was a typical Sunday afternoon for Chief Warrant Officer 4 Richard Bovey and Chief Warrant Officer 3 David McCrumb. Both Army Reserve pilots were spending Sunday with family at their homes July 7 when around 4 p.m. Bovey received a call from the National Park Service on Mount Rainier.
Earlier that day, a nine-person climbing party reached the Rainier summit and were on their way back down when one of the mountaineers, Peter Almerling, fell while skiing down the mountain. He had suffered life-threatening injuries at 13,500 feet, near the top of the Emmons Glacier. Four members of the climbing party navigated down to call for help from Camp Schurman, a high camp on the mountain established by the NPS.
Almerling, an experienced mountain climber from British Columbia, Canada, had sustained multiple traumatic injuries. His condition was so serious that his fellow climbers doubted he would survive the night if he was not extracted.
Bovey received the call and immediately called his co-pilot, McCrumb. Less than 90 minutes later, the pilots and their crew left their homes, traveled to Gray Army Airfield and lifted off in their CH-47D Chinook from Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Chinook and crew flew to Kautz heli-base in Mount Rainier National Park, for rehearsals with climbing rangers from the NPS. During rehearsals, the NPS rangers and pilots discussed timing details and extraction methods.
Following the rehearsals, NPS rangers boarded the helicopter, accompanied by an NPS representative who stayed onboard to assist in identifying the accident location and relay information between the NPS and the pilots.
Having the National Park Service representative onboard our aircraft facilitates real time updates between the pilots and the NPS rescue climbers on the ground. This high level of communication increases the probability of a successful rescue, despite the harsh weather and wind, McCrumb said. The group flew up the mountain where the pilots inserted two climbing rangers at Liberty Saddle, approximately 300 feet above the scene. The NPS rangers assessed the patient and packaged Almerling for flight. He was extracted by the Army Reserve Chinook at 9:10 p.m. and taken to Madigan Army Medical Center on JBLM.
Our close partnership with the National Park Service is crucial to saving lives on the mountain, Bovey said. We are lucky to work with such dedicated professionals.
Bovey and McCrumb are Chinook pilots assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 214th General Support Aviation Regiment, belonging to the Army Reserves 11th Aviation Command, headquartered at Fort Knox, Ky. Each pilot was trained and prepared for rescue missions, having received high altitude training in Colorado and during multiple combat deployments in the mountains of Afghanistan and humanitarian missions in the mountains of Pakistan.
The flight crew of Sgt. 1st Class Michael Hatzenbuehler, Staff Sgt. Ryan Elkins, and Spec. John Esmond assisted during takeoffs, landings and the extraction.
The mountain climbing season on Mount Rainier usually runs from mid-May through mid-September. Due to its close proximity to Seattle the mountain is an inviting place to climb. Rainier draws novices and experts, but with deep crevasses and winds that regularly exceed 40 mph, even experienced mountaineers can get into trouble on the mountain.
Bravo Company began conducting operations on the mountain in 1998. They are called upon to rescue injured mountain climbers an average of between five and 10 times a year.