Grand Teton is a mountain in Wyoming. It is high, steep, and hard to climb. One afternoon in 2003, 13 climbers
were nearly at the top. The weather turned stormy. As the group rested on a rock ledge, lightning hit them.
Death on the Mountain
One of the climbers was killed. Another was left dangling from a rope. He was unconscious. Three others were
knocked off the ledge. They fell 60 feet (18 meters) and were badly hurt. One of the remaining climbers called 911 on a cell phone.
Laurence Perry was one of the people who got the call. Perry is a wilderness rescue helicopter pilot. He began
fl ying forest rangers to the accident site, two at a time. There was no place to land, so Perry kept the helicopter in the air above the ledge. The rangers went down a 100-foot (30-meter) rope to reach the injured climbers.
A Spectacular Rescue
The rescuers had to work fast. It was raining and getting dark. Other helicopter pilots brought more rangers and medical equipment. The injured climbers were strapped onto stretchers. One at a time, Perry and the other pilots lifted them off the mountain. They were fl own to an area where there was space to land. There the climbers were put into larger helicopters and fl own to hospitals.
It took just over three hours to rescue all of the climbers. They all survived. Afterward, ranger Tom Kimbrough said, “This might be the most spectacular rescue in the history of American mountaineering.”
Who Goes to the Rescue?
Who goes on a search and rescue mission? The answer depends on who is fi rst told of the problem. It also depends on where the emergency takes place. Most calls for search and rescue missions go to local police or fi re departments. These groups handle many rescue operations. If the mission is on land owned or managed by the U.S. government, it is handled by the National Park Service. Search and rescue missions at sea, near the coasts of the United States, are handled by the U.S. Coast Guard. These rules were put in place in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They are called the National Response Framework.
Props and Choppers
Wilderness rescue pilots look for people who are lost, injured, or in trouble. They are often called SAR pilots. SAR
stands for search and rescue. These fl yers must fi nd people, and then work with others to rescue them.
Seeing in the Dark
Search and rescue pilots carry night vision goggles. These “electronic glasses” let pilots see in the dark. The goggles make light from the moon, the stars, and the ground look 2,000 to 3,500 times brighter. It doesn’t look like daylight, however. Because of the way the goggles work, they show things in one color only. Green is picked because the human eye can see more shades of green than most other colors.
SAR pilots fl y many kinds of aircraft. Large fi xedwing airplanes are used for long-range searches, especially at sea. They can fl y higher, faster, and farther than helicopters. Smaller fi xed-wing planes search over forests. Nearly all fi xed-wing SAR aircraft are propeller, or “prop,” driven. Jets fl y too fast for careful searching.
Helicopters are sometimes called “choppers” or “whirlybirds.” Offi cially, they are called rotary-wing aircraft. That’s because their wings rotate, or turn in circles. Helicopters can’t fl y as fast or as far as fi xed-wing airplanes. They can, however, land in places that fi xedwing airplanes cannot. They can also fl y backward and hover, or stay in one place, in the air. This makes them ideal for rescue operations.
A Team Effort
Rescue pilots rarely work alone. A “spotter” often fl ies with the pilot. This person does the looking while the pilot concentrates on fl ying. The spotter looks for signs of people on the ground or in the ocean. SAR aircraft also may carry medical people, forest rangers, fi refi ghters, or rescue swimmers. In some cases, they may even bring specially trained dogs to help with the rescue.
Pilots use radios to talk with other searchers. During a mission, some SAR people may be on foot, horseback, skis, ships, or other aircraft. These people all must keep in touch with each other and with workers at rescue headquarters.
As they fl y, pilots or spotters check maps to make sure they are in their assigned search area. They also use navigation devices. These devices include compasses and Global Positioning System (GPS) units.
A pilot’s work isn’t fi nished when the fl ight is over. Rescue pilots have to write reports about each operation. They also have to fi ll out fl ight logs. Flight logs record how far the plane fl ew and how many hours the fl ight took. Pilots also work closely with the mechanics who fi x and maintain their aircraft.
The U.S. Marine Corps trains some of its pilots to fl y search and rescue missions to bring back marines in trouble. But from May 2008 to July 2009, Marine Corps pilot Major Jennifer Grieves had a different job. Major Grieves was a “Marine One.” That is the title given to the president’s helicopters and the pilots who fl y them. Major Grieves was the fi rst woman to hold a Marine One position.