Flying to rescue with Oregon National Guard

The Oregon National Guard uses an HH-60M Black Hawk for their air rescues (May 2013, KOIN 6 News)
The Oregon National Guard uses an HH-60M Black Hawk for their air rescues (May 2013, KOIN 6 News)

SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) — The Oregon National Guard’s Medical Evacuation Unit never knows when a call for help will come from a local sheriff. But when it does, But when it does, members of C Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment spring into action in an HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter. spring into action in an HH-60M Black Hawk helicopter.

Two pilots, a medic and a crew chief can fly higher and carry more weight than most civilian helicopters and hover hundreds of feet about someone who needs help. Each year, the unit responds to an average of 30 civilian emergencies.

Like Mary Owen.

An Oregon National Guard Helicopter spotted Owen below Sandy Glacier, near the Pacific Crest Trail. She was hoisted into the helicopter and immediately taken to Legacy Emanuel Hospital suffering from frost bite in March.

The George Fox University senior spent six days stranded on Mount Hood.

“I remember hearing the blades of the helicopter and knowing they were coming for me,” she told KOIN 6 News.

“Our mission is to help and save the lives of our fallen comrades in the combat zone, but we can take that and carry that over to our civilian population here in the state of Oregon,”said Lt. Col. Mark Ulvin, Army Aviation Support Facility Commander with the Oregon National Guard.

Once the call comes, like it did to search for Mary Owen, the Blackhawk can take the crew from Salem to Mount Hood in about 40 minutes.

The helicopter is good for “situations that just may not be accessible by any other means but from the sky,” he said.

At a training area just outside Silverton, the hoist operator slowly lowers a medic on a cable – smaller than your pinky finger but strong enough to haul 600 pounds.

“Our life as a flying medic is in the hands of the pilot and crew up on top,” Staff Sgt. Ben Sjullie said. “But we’re all very well trained, so I have no question they’re going to get me down safely.”

After the medic is lowered, the Black Hawk leaves the area — reducing the ground wind — as the medic stabilizes the patient and prepares for the rescue. Depending on the emergency, the unit can carry as many as six patients.

The Black Hawk has all the same equipment as an ambulance.

Ulvin said the helicopter is mostly easy to hold steady. “Sometimes it depends on the winds, but on calm days this thing is a perfectly steady platform.”

Crews said there is no greater missing than saving lives.

“There’s no words to really wrap around it other than it’s just a great sense of pride, emotionally and physically, for us to be able to got out and assist these folks,” Ulvin said.

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