JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska – Alaska Air National Guardsmen with Rescue Squadrons 211 and 212 assisted the National Park Service in rescuing a fallen climber in Denali on May 20.
Denali National Park and Preserve rangers located the climber, who fell from a 16,000-foot ridge in West Buttress onto Peters Glacier on the night of May 19, according to an NPS news release.
With the air guidance of 211th RQS Aircrew and 212th RQS Pararescuemen aboard an HC-130J Combat King II, a Ranger mountaineer evacuated the patient, who suffered minor injuries.
“Flying with skydivers with personal experience and in-depth knowledge of the Denali range was invaluable,” said Lt. Col. Patrick McBride, commander of the HC-130J aircraft. “Cloud cover was variable, but our team was able to provide route guidance to the Ranger team on the ground.”
Tatsuto Hatanaka, 24, from Setagaya-ku, Japan, was climbing with a partner on the West Buttress route just above the fixed line at 16,200 feet. At about 11 p.m., Hatanaka’s companion saw him fall from the ridge, but was unable to reach him or see where he came to rest.
Rangers received notification of the fall around 2 a.m. on May 20. The NPS dispatched an AS350 A-Star helicopter, and the crew was able to see Hatanaka. However, cloudy conditions prevented the helicopter from reaching the climber.
Two Highland Rangers fanned out from the 14,200-foot camp and conducted a ground search. After viewing Hatanaka’s location at approximately 15,100 feet on top of Peters Glacier, four more Ranger mountaineers set out from camp to assist.
NPS requested fixed wing search and rescue assistance from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, which called the 176th Wing. The search and rescue duty officer sent a 211th RQS HC-130J Combat King with paratroopers from the 212th RQS to board. The HC-130J crew provided weather reconnaissance for the NPS helicopter and found holes in the low cloud ceiling.
“The NPS helicopter took off from Talkeetna and we helped them find a route across the ridge to the north side where the weather was better,” McBride said. “The crew was able to land safely on the glacier, where their medical team prepared the patient for air evacuation. We stayed up high and helped them find their way back through the ridge for their return to Talkeetna.”
Due to the high altitude, the A-Star crew made a power landing near the climber’s location, allowing the Ranger to get out and help him into the helicopter.
Southern District Ranger Tucker Chenoweth highlighted the partnership between the NPS and the National Guard.
“The Denali Mountaineering Rangers want to recognize the strong partnership with the Alaska Air National Guard,” Chenoweth said. “When we’re working SAR operations in Denali, it’s always a comfort to our team to know that the Alaska National Guard has our back. This was a life saved and could not have been accomplished without the relationship and teamwork of our two agencies.”
For this rescue, the National Park Service, Alaska Rescue Coordination Center, RQS 211, and RQS 212 received credit for a rescue.