- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An LUH-72 Lakota Black Hawk helicopter swooped down on the west summit of Pinnacle Mountain on a recent Saturday morning, eventually hovering over the north side.

The wind from the rotors blew leaves off the bushes, and the two dozen or so spectators crouched on the summit shielded their faces from the debris. They watched as the helicopter crew used a cable to lower an Arkansas National Guardsman onto the mountain.

The brisk morning air turned frigid as the rotors kept spinning, but it only took a short time before Staff Sgt. Nathan Smith was on the mountain and free of his harness.

The simulated rescue was part of a National Guard training exercise held near the 1,011-foot summit of Pinnacle Mountain northwest of Little Rock.

Normally, Spec. Rebecca Egerdahl - who was playing the role of an injured climber - would hand Smith a 3-by-5-inch card listing her fictitious injuries. Smith would then have to determine how to treat Egerdahl and work with the rescue team to lift her safely to the helicopter.

But this wasn’t a normal training day.

Members of the National Guard medevac unit said it was the first time that they can remember anyone being out on an aerial-hoist mission on a mountain. Normally, the exercises are performed at Camp Robinson.

When they got permission from state officials to train in Pinnacle Mountain State Park, the crew decided to play it safe and try to complete the missions as quickly as possible, knowing the public would be out on the trails.

“You don’t see a Black Hawk hovering about you usually,” 31-year-old Matt Holland of Little Rock, who was hiking on the mountain that morning, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1e2TXEV)

Ben Rechtor said he and his friends stood too close to the action for the first mission, which took place lower on the mountain at about 600 feet.

“We had to sit down or we would have blown away,” Rechtor said.

National Guard Sgt. Richard Lanier, a crew chief for the mission, said the mountain training allowed the medevac crew to gain experience on terrain much different from the forestland of Camp Robinson.

“I hope we can continue to do this because it really helps us,” Lanier said.

As crew chiefs, Lanier and Staff Sgt. Cory Hanaday are harnessed and sit on the floor of the helicopter until the helicopter door opens. They then dangle their feet off the side and monitor Smith’s descent.

Chief Warrant Officers Cole Brewer and Dustin Beene pilot the helicopter for the crew of Detachment 1, Company F, Battalion 2, 238th Medevac.

Crew members have conducted rescue missions in the mountains of Kosovo and in a flood at Y City.

“When you get out there and do a mission like that, it’s completely different,” Smith said.

When the crew went to Y City in Scott County last year, Smith was hoisted down in rapidly flowing water to rescue two people who had been searching for others swept away by the floodwaters. They were dehydrated and needed help.

The water was running rapidly, but Smith had to go down anyway.

“That was one of the scariest things I ever did,” he said.

The more training the crews receive in different scenarios and on different terrains helps them prepare for any possibility, Smith said.

“Everything is so different, which is why it’s so great to get out there,” Smith said.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, https://www.arkansasonline.com



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