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176th Wing awarded for ‘heroic’ May rescue of mountaineers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Published: Oct. 7, 2021 at 7:35 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing has been honored for their part in rescuing a group of mountaineers in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park earlier this year. The wing is the recipient of the U.S. Air Force’s Jolly Green Rescue Mission of the Year award.

The rescue effort happened over Memorial Day weekend after the National Park Service received a distress signal indicating mountaineers were experiencing high-altitude sickness and adverse weather. The group became stranded at 10,000 feet on Mt. Bona during what the Alaska Air National Guard described at the time as a high-altitude training expedition.

READ MORE: Mountaineers rescued after getting stranded in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Rescue crews from multiple squadrons faced cloudy, snowy and windy weather. Not only could rescuers not get in at first, but an attempted airdrop of medical supplies also failed. The crews spent about 80 hours trying to pierce through, but eventually were able to reach the mountaineers.

Rescuers were also able to help a pilot and passenger who were on a separate trip near Mt. Hawkins that were stranded around the same time. The convergence of skill on the ground and in the air resulted in two successful missions.

READ MORE: Rescuers describe mission to extract mountaineers from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

“What we do here matters and, you know, kind of validate what they do on a daily basis,” said Maj. Kevin Kelly, the deputy director of the Alaska Rescue Coordination Center. “All the training and then all the missions that we’re running here at the RCC, you know, is something important.”

The Alaska Rescue Coordination Center said it averages about 100 rescues a year, with summer being one of the busiest times.

Editor’s note: Prior reporting on the rescue from former Alaska’s News Source reporter Jill Burke has been added to this story.

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