July 14, 2024

Guard busy in Acadia > Helicopter aids 3 within weeks

August has been a banner month of sorts for rangers at Acadia National Park, but not of the type they would like to repeat.

A new record was set when the park had to call on the services of a National Guard helicopter evacuation unit in Bangor three times within a few weeks, said park Ranger Rob Yates.

The first instance was Aug. 1, when the 112th Medical Company of the Maine Army National Guard airlifted a 12-year-old girl from Penobscot Mountain; on Aug. 23 the unit rescued an 83-year-old man who went into shock after cutting his face in a fall on the same mountain.

Then, last weekend, a 42-year-old man with a heart condition was retrieved from atop the Beehive Trail where a hoist was lowered from the helicopter because there was nowhere for the aircraft to land.

While the total number of rescues performed in the park this season has been about average, there were fewer nail-biters than usual until this month saw those three in short order.

The park typically conducts 50 to 70 rescues per year, ranging from the retrieval of injured bicyclists from carriage roads to the rescue of hurt hikers down trails by litter, said Yates.

The 112th is called in when time is of the essence, or the terrain forbidding.

Not only is it dangerous and time-consuming for park rangers to carry injured people down the steeper trails, it is almost impossible to administer some types of medical treatment in that situation, Yates said.

According to 112th commander Maj. David Smith, his unit’s services were needed Aug. 1 not so much to treat the girl, but because it was the kind of extraordinarily hot day that would pose a health hazard to rescuers were they forced to bear a litter down a mountain on foot.

Whenever feasible, park personnel conduct their own rescues with help from local agencies such as MDI Search & Rescue, and the Bar Harbor Fire Department and ambulance corps. The 112th charges $550 an hour for its helicopter and a flat rate of $400 for its four-person crew, which includes two pilots, a crew chief to operate the hoist, and a paramedic.

“As long as it’s a rescue mission, we don’t pay any cost,” said Yates. The National Park Service does. “But we can’t just call them for any old reason. It has to be life-threatening.

Even some search operations fall within that category if they involve children or elderly people, medical problems, or poor weather conditions.

On the other hand, “if we had a report of an 18-year-old overdue for two hours, with no medical condition and in good weather, that’s not an emergency,” Yates said.

Some of the more mountainous national parks, such as Yosemite, have their own aircraft, which would not be cost-effective in a smaller park like Acadia, Yates said.

Both the Brunswick Naval Air Station and the U.S. Coast Guard aircraft installation in Cape Cod are too far away to provide quick service, Yates said, whereas a call to the 112th during the regular business hours Monday through Friday usually results in the unit’s responding within 30 to 45 minutes.

Unfortunately, all three park rescues in August were outside those hours, which tends to lengthen response time to more like 60 to 90 minutes, said Yates.

Still, the 112th specializes in rescues in remote locations, and exhibits a “can-do” attitude the park appreciates.

The 112th does have the discretion to deny a service request, particularly if the weather is bad. Norm Dodge, chief law enforcement ranger at the park, said there have been times when he and his colleagues did not even ask for the unit’s help because fog or snowstorm conditions would have hampered its ability to fly.

Smith said his unit’s ability to respond in most situations will be enhanced by the 15 new helicopters it is set to receive within the next two years. Due to its designation as one of the top rescue units of its kind in the nation, the 112th will be the first to receive the UH60 Blackhawks — larger, faster aircraft that will replace its entire fleet of aging UH Hueys.

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