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37 HS saves life in search and rescue operation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sarah Post
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

The 37th Helicopter Squadron was called to participate in a search and rescue operation, where their efforts saved the life of a Ukrainian national on Muddy Mountain near Casper, Wyoming, July 16, 2023.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. on July 16, Lt. Col. Kathleen Tenpenny, 37 HS commander, was notified of a SAR tasking from the Air Force Rescue Center by the 90th Missile Wing Command Post. A man became lost while camping with his family on Muddy Mountain between July 15 and July 16. Tenpenny analyzed the tasking and sought approval to launch a crew for the operation.

“It’s important for the team to respond to matters like these because it shows our continued partnership with the civilian community and sends the message that when called upon, we will do everything in our power to find survivors, get them the medical attention they require and reunite them with their loved ones,” said Tenpenny. “The crew expeditiously responded to the SAR and found the survivor in such a timely manner that we were able to do just that.”

Tenpenny called upon Maj. Sean Vincent and Capt. Robert Ramirez, 37 HS pilots, and Tech Sgt. Phillip Hill and Tech Sgt. Harley Houser, 37 HS flight engineers, to respond to the SAR tasking. Tenpenny also called 90th Medical Group flight medicine and Master Sgt. George Fileas, flight medicine section chief, responded.

While Tenpenny coordinated with the Natrona County Sheriff’s office regarding the extent of the operation, the 37 HS team prepared themselves and the aircraft. They become familiar with the situation and determined factors like aircraft hoist, fuel and load capacity, and by about 7:30 a.m., the team was enroute to the scene.

Vincent and Ramirez flew to the last known location of the victim to begin their search of the approximately three and a half square mile search area.

“It felt very tense, and we could hear the exhaustion in the voices of the ground team that had been searching all night,” said Vincent. “We were also hopeful though, because we had a much better vantage point from the air and we were able to cover a larger search area quickly.”

After about ten minutes in the area, Houser saw a man matching the description of the individual, and the team took action to land the helicopter and make their way to the survivor’s location. Fileas had a dialogue prepared to navigate the language barrier, and Hill and Fileas were able to get the survivor onboard the aircraft to give him medical attention and bring him to safety. A three-minute flight got the team and survivor to the campground where civilian SAR personnel were located. Fileas took his vitals, provided a space blanket for hypothermia and offered food and water to prepare him for ground paramedics arrival.

“When he departed from our aid, he gave me a hug and repeated the words ‘thank you’, which I will never forget,” said Fileas. “There is no greater satisfaction than to know that the skills the Air Force entrusted you with was utilized to save a life.”

Before the 37 HS was called to the scene, members of Natrona Country began the search on July 15 between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. A volunteer search and rescue team of nine personnel, along with two K-9’s made up a tracking team on the ground, while eight NCSO deputies, four Casper Mountain fire personnel, a Bureau of Land Management ranger and four member BLM fire team were also part of the search party, along with a fixed wing plane in the air. They searched through the night for approximately 11 hours until the survivor was located.

The efforts of the Airmen and Natrona Country personal combined saved the survivor and reunited him with his family.

“None of us could do this alone,” said Vincent. “The only reason we were successful was teamwork and crew coordination.”

Although this was the first save by the 37 HS in about four years, the squadron is no stranger to SAR operations. They began as an air rescue squadron in 1952 and had several redesignations such as aerospace rescue and recovery squadron and rescue flight, before becoming the 37 HS in 2005. The squadron has been responsible for dozens of saved lives since its inception, and a role they continue to serve into the present.