Friday, May 19, 2017

Helicopter Search and Rescue - Short Haul

Since 2012, Mount Rainier National Park has adopted shorthaul as its aviation rescue method.

* Photo: NPS Ranger, Van Roberts, 1000 above ground, on the end of the shorthaul rope with a patient in the "Baumann Bag"

Shorthaul is a particular method of helicopter rescue where a single rope, typically 100-300 feet, is suspended beneath the helicopter.  A rescuer clips in to a ring on the end of the rope.  The rescuer is lifted and transported to the rescue scene.  An injured subject can be transported with this method, along with the rescuer, by employing a few different adjuncts such as a 'Screamer Suit' in a sitting position or in a "Baumann Bag" in a horizontal position.

This method of rescue obviates the complexities of hoist, where the patient and/or rescuer is lifted up to the helicopter and transported inside.  Shorthaul also has a national, inter-agency working team that has developed standards for managing program components such as pilot qualification, rescuer qualification, communication standards, and risk assessment protocols.

* Photo: Climbing Ranger Stefan Lofgren transports a patient injured in a skiing accident from Lane Peak near Paradise.

The park has an exclusive use contract with Helicopter Express.  Our helicopter is a Eurocopter Astar A350B3.  It is a high performance helicopter able to perform at the high elevations required by our mountain.

To make the use of this helicopter cost-effective, the helicopter and its crew are a regional resource.  It is commonly used on wildland fires, search and rescue missions, and project flights such as to supply remote stations or transport crew for science missions.  This helps defray the costs.  Even though the helicopter may be out on a fire or on a project, the helicopter's priority is search and rescue.  This means that when the rescue occurs, it will take a moment before the helicopter gets the call, lands, reconfigures, and flies back to the park.

* Photo: Climbing rangers practice a tandom pickoff from a training area near Ashford.

The timeline for a rescue is more lengthy than if the helicopter was just sitting there at Mount Rainier's helibase waiting for a SAR.  However, we have found that it is yet faster than our previous method of calling various helicopter companies to see if they have a helicopter and pilot available.  Thus our response times have improved.

In 2016, climbing rangers are the primary (but not the only) performers of shorthaul rescue at Mount Rainier.  Climbing rangers are in various stages (over a couple of years) of completing training in these courses that are related to performing rescue on the high parts of Mount Rainier:
  • S-130 / S-190 Basic Wildland Fire Behavior and Suppression (~40 hours)
  • Incident Command System (I-100 /  I-200 / I-300 / IS-700)
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT ~100 hours))
  • Technical rope rescue ( ~ 80 hours)
  • Basic Avation Safety and Helicopter Crewmember (50 hours + 1 year trainee)
  • AMGA Alpine Skills course (~40 hours)
  • AMGA Alpine Guide course (~100 hours)
  • AMGA Ski Guide course (~100 hours)
  • US Level II-III (or professional) Avalanche (40 hours)
  • Short-Haul training (~40 hours)
  • STEP (Hover and One-Skid Landing) training (8-16 hours)
* Photo: A climbing ranger brings in the shorthaul rope at the staging area during a training exercise near the Tahoma Glacier.

The rangers have finished their spring training and are being deployed this week out to high camps and ranger stations.

It is important to remember that although this is a great tool, it will never be the only tool.  Weather, terrain, conditions, complexity, team selection, and other factors weigh heavily into using this method of helicopter rescue.

It is also important to point out that it takes a rather large team of people to make this happen.  The pilot, helicopter and aviation staff, rangers, mechanics, and support crews all play an important role in effecting rescues.  A big shout out to the hard work everyone puts into this.