Specialized Helicopter Rescue Skills Prove Valuable

When the Flathead National Forest requested Yellowstone National Park's helicopter, Lama 230 US, and crew of six on August 9, 2011, it was a standard helicopter order to help the forest deal with a number of new fire starts. What the forest got, though, was the added bonus of a helicopter and crew prepared for short-haul extrication, which proved invaluable the first day on assignment.

Ranger hanging from helicopter in the sky with materials for a rescue operation over a dry landscape
Yellowstone National Park's pilot and helicopter crew demonstrate the teamwork required for short-haul operations.

On August 10, two crew members flew to the Kalispell airport while the rest of the crew followed in chase vehicles. When the helicopter arrived at the airport, the early crew met with Flathead NF Fire Management Officer Rick Connell. During the in-brief, crew lead Doug Kraus mentioned that the helicopter was short-haul extrication capable. Not long after the in-brief and before the rest of the crew could arrive, Connell called Kraus and inquired more about the short-haul program. Connell was exploring options for rescuing a smokejumper on the Peters Ridge Fire who had suffered a hard landing and was incapacitated due to a hip injury.

Kraus said the rest of the crew would be arriving soon and, if needed, they would be ready for a short haul by 3:30 p.m. Kraus received a call from dispatch at 4:00 p.m. requesting a short-haul extrication for the injured jumper. The pilot plus two crew members flew a reconnaissance flight and determined the jumper was more seriously injured than first reported. The crew devised a plan and returned to the airport to load gear for the rescue. The helicopter left the airport at 4:20 p.m. for a staging area to configure for the short haul. Pilot Matt Turner flew to the scene to insert Kraus, who found the jumper packaged in a Kendrick extraction devise and a Sked stretcher. Other jumpers helped Kraus package the patient on the Ferno scoop stretcher and into a Baumann bag to keep him stable and warm.

After about five minutes on the ground, the helicopter pilot lowered the rope to Krause, who hooked up and was extracted with the patient to the staging area. The patient was then transferred to LifeFlight and taken to an area hospital.

The helicopter crew performed another short-haul rescue in Yellowstone, when a park employee was injured on Barronette Peak on August 5. The injured researcher was in an area that would have required a labor-intensive, low-angle technical rescue without the helicopter.

The Yellowstone helicopter was also ordered on the Pagami Fire in Minnesota, specifically because it was short-haul capable. However, no extrications were necessary.

Last updated: December 14, 2017