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Alaska Air National Guardsmen rescue 3 boaters on the Kuskokwim River

F-22s and HH-60Gs fly over JBER
Airman 1st Class Julia Lebens
U.S. Air Force
An Alaska Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to the 210th Rescue Squadron takes off at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Oct. 26, 2022. The Rescue Squadron conducts search and rescue missions, and provides rescue support in Alaska’s arctic conditions.

Alaska Air National Guardsmen rescued three boaters on the Kuskokwim River near Bethel late last week.

At around 8:00 p.m. on Oct. 28, Alaska State Troopers were notified that three boaters were stuck in ice on the Kuskokwim River about 6 miles east of Bethel.

According to David Bedard, a spokesperson for the 176th Wing, a helicopter equipped with pararescuemen was launched from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. The pararescue team is composed of rescue specialists who are also trained paramedics.

“This mission really demonstrated the capability of the Alaska Air National Guard equipment and the 176th Wing, as well as the resiliency and resourcefulness of our airmen. Carrying out the mission was pretty straightforward. As far as rescue mission goes, they’re trained to do this. They do it almost every day,” Bedard said.

One of the boaters called a family member who then dialed 911. Troopers then requested assistance from the 176th Wing of the Alaska National Guard. The stormy weather made navigating and visibility difficult, but crewmembers were able to locate the boaters thanks to a strobe light used by a member of the party.

Austin McDaniel, the communications director for the Alaska State Troopers, confirmed the report, stating “Our partners, the Alaska National Guard, rescued three boaters. One of them reported some minor cold weather-related injuries. The other two reported no injuries.”

The rescue helicopter transported the boaters to troopers at the Bethel airport in the early morning hours of Oct. 29. One boater was treated for the cold weather injuries in Bethel.

“The Alaska State Troopers, along with our partners at the Alaska Air National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the countless volunteer search and rescue organizations that operate across Alaska, are always standing ready to respond to any calls for help or distress across the state,” McDaniel said.

The return flight back to Anchorage was interrupted due to weather when the helicopter reached a mountain pass on its way back. The crew made it through about three-quarters of the pass before running into a storm. The decision was made to land in a clearing next to a lake and wait out the weather. At sunrise, the weather was good enough for the crew to make their way back to Anchorage.

Francisco Martínezcuello is the KYUK News Reporting Fellow and a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.