Coast Guard rescuers train on thin ice
Posted by PA3 Meredith Manning, Friday, March 18, 2016
While ice rescue training is not unfamiliar to Coast Guard members in cold climates like Alaska, incorporating air rescue added a new element for these crews. Members from Air Station Kodiak, Sector Anchorage and the National Ice Rescue School in Essexville, Michigan, teamed up to perform ice rescues from an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter at Upper 6 Mile Lake on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. For the participating members it was an experience that brought new elements into their normal training evolutions.
The aircrews from Air Station Kodiak train for many types of search and rescue cases and the different variables they may encounter. They train for the dangers of being exposed to the frigid cold environment and for rescuing those who have been affected by these cold temperatures. But for these members, it was the first time they had participated in ice rescue training.
“I was recently involved in a case where two men became trapped in the Bering Strait on kayaks and were surrounded by ice,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jon Kreske, the rescue swimmer training on the Jayhawk. “The rescue was a success and we safely returned the men to shore, but I saw firsthand just how unpredictable ice can be. This training allowed us to test that unpredictability in a controlled environment and make us more prepared when lives are at stake.”
The crews from the NIRS are the Coast Guard’s experts on ice rescue. During their stay in Alaska, the crew traveled with members of Sector Anchorage to Barrow, Point Lay, Point Hope and Kotzebue to train local fire departments on surface ice rescues. The training at JBER was the first time the three members of the team trained with Jayhawk helicopter crews.
“This training brings a new element to ice rescue for our team,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Abold, the NIRS lead instructor. “We will be able to take what we learned here and incorporate it into a Coast Guard-wide training.”
The training participants learned how to self-rescue, tested the stability of ice and practiced different ice rescue hoist techniques. A member from the NIRS or Sector Anchorage would enter the water and hold on to the ice edge while a rescue swimmer was lowered to the ice. The crews practiced rescue techniques using slings and baskets to hoist the distressed person to safety.
“Rescuers bring hope for a person who is most likely having the worst day of their life,” said Abold. “This is why joint scenario based training is so important. We can take lessons learned and apply it to future training and operations and complete successful rescues when the call arises.”
Alaska has 44,000 miles of diverse shoreline and, in winter months, most of the water surrounding the state is frozen. The sea ice is usually covered in snow and is very dynamic due to the action of winds, currents and temperature fluctuations. This leads to a wide variety of ice types and features, which creates a challenge for the aircrews that respond to search and rescue cases in the Arctic.
“To prepare our aircrews for advanced deployment and recovery responses, we strive to provide challenging training in a realistic environment,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Joel Sayers, the aviation survival division chief at Air Station Kodiak. “Our pilots, flight mechanics and rescue swimmers are members of the most exceptional search and rescue team in the world and continue to train daily to fulfill the motto ‘So Others May Live.’”
Tags: 17th Coast Guard District, Alaska, coast guard sector anchorage, dolphin, ice rescue, JBER, joint base elmendorf-richardson, Manning, MH-65 Dolphin, national ice rescue school, NIRS, Rescue, SAR, Search and Rescue, Sector Anchorage