Public Media for Alaska's Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Alaska Army National Guard rescues two overdue snow machiners near Tuntutuliak

CW3 Bryan Kruse
Dean Swope
CW3 Bryan Kruse

Two snowmachiners are recovering from severe frostbite after being rescued by the Alaska Army National Guard in the Johnson River area near Tuntutuliak on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th.

“We accepted the mission,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bryan Kruse. He is the pilot in command of the UH-60L Black Hawk helicopter that was recently stationed in Bethel.

“We launched about 1030, we linked up, it was our crew with the National Guard and our helicopter work in coordination with state troopers,” Kruse said.

After learning the two men were overdue, the Alaska State Troopers requested assistance from the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The coordination center then reached out to the Army National Guard Aviation Battalion headquarters at Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson, who then tasked the Bethel crew with the mission.

Kruse picked up Alaska State Trooper Zachary Huckstep before beginning the search about 35 miles southwest of Bethel.

“It was myself and another pilot, one crew chief and then we carried one of the State Troopers,” Kruse said.

But sometimes they need additional help.

“The recruiter across the road, he’ll come help. Just extra eyes in there to help look for somebody that typically will fly with three and any additional help we can get we’ll take. Especially in these temperatures when life’s on the line it’s all the eyes you can have the better because time is pretty critical at that point,” according to Kruse.

Kruse, Huckstep, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Morgan Osborn, co-pilot, and Staff Sergeant Caleb Henry, the crew chief, searched the area until they found the first man near the mouth of the Johnson River.

“We saw him a couple of miles out. He ended up flagging us down, verified it was him so we found a spot to land, set down. State Trooper Huckstep, he got out, went talked to the guy, helped him out. He looked pretty rough, he’s limping pretty bad, and my crew chief went out to get him in the aircraft. He had some frostbite, he said his hips hurt and he’s been out since one o’clock in the cold weather, 15 below,” Kruse said.

The team coordinated with Kenai Flight Service and the tower to arrange an ambulance to transport the injured to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital in Bethel.

“And then we launched out for round two to look for the other one,” added Kruse.

The crew received information that Bethel Search and Rescue found the second individual and brought him back to town.

“We didn’t know what his condition was so we decided to go to Tuntutuliak…It sounded like the clinic wouldn’t be able to treat his frostbite anyway, so at that point it’s still life, limb, or eyesight. This guy was in pretty bad shape. He’s getting hypothermic. He may have a broken bone, I don’t know he was, came back out to the airport and we just rushed him back here,” Kruse said.

Both men received treatment at YKHC.

“It’s huge for the community and I was actually getting ready to do my crew swap yesterday when we got the call, and my other two here they’re both from Anchorage and they jumped all over it. We can help the community let’s go. We’ll push our flights back. They were all about it. It’s just the whole Alaska - one team thing. I mean, everybody’s working together,” Kruse said.

The Alaska Army National Guard aviation facility has had the Black Hawk since February 4th 2023, and the Guardsmen there hope to continue flying around the YK Delta through the spring. And their presence has benefited the region, from humanitarian assistance during Typhoon Merbok to search and rescue missions like this one.

Francisco Martínezcuello was the KYUK News Reporting Fellow from November 2022 through January 2024. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
Related Content