FALLON, Nevada (NNS) -- In the stormy morning hours of May 7, the driver of a Toyota Sienna mini-van lost control of the vehicle while attempting to overtake a tractor-trailer near Hawthorne, Nevada, 60 miles south of Fallon.
The van, and its six occupants, tumbled along the road, eventually coming to a stop off of the paved shoulder. Only the driver was believed to have used a seat belt. Just after 0820, a call went out to emergency services.
Local Nevada emergency services responded to the scene to find the other five occupants had been partially or completely ejected from the vehicle. One of the passengers died at the scene. The remaining victims were quickly transported to Mt. Grant General Hospital in Hawthorne, but due to the critical nature of their injuries, needed more specialized care.
The incident commander requested assistance from American Medflight, Summit Medical Group, Care Flight, and the Tonopah-based Flying ICU. Inclement weather prevented all four of the aerial medical services from safely transporting the victims. AMF launched an aircraft and made several attempts to land at Hawthorne, but were unable to do so safely.
"It was a very sad and frustrating day for the pilots of the medical aircraft, and for the medical people in Hawthorne," said Betty Easley, the Hawthorne Airport volunteer greeter and on-call radio operator that day. "Even with as bad as the report was, the Reno AMF pilot tried and circled overhead and could not find a way down and had to fly back to Reno. We knew critical patients needed fast help and none of us could provide it because of the weather."
When a local doctor told the IC that ground transportation would not be a viable option, he turned to the only other option: The Longhorns of Naval Air Station Fallon's search and rescue team.
"When I got the call from the IC, I could tell immediately by the tone of his voice that this was serious incident and they had their hands full," said NASF Operations Officer Cdr. Kevin Heiss. "The IC did everything right in this situation, and after all local resources were exhausted, he called us in a last ditch effort to get help. I knew the weather would present a challenge, but I know that our aircrews will always take appropriate safety measures while also trying to do everything in our power to help."
The call went out, and the Longhorns began the preparations to get two MH-60S Knighthawks, Longhorn 02 and Longhorn 04, in the air. At 1130, four pilots, three aircrew, four corpsmen, and a flight surgeon were en route.
"Going into the flight, we knew weather was going to be the most significant obstacle and we spent extra time coming up with a safe route clear of obscured terrain," said Lt. Stephen McLaughlin, mission commander for Longhorn 02. "Each crewmember split up and began to prepare gear, pre-flight, and set up the cabin for patient care. I told everyone to focus on their part of the mission and to do it well, and then we walked to start engines."
Longhorn 02 launched from NASF with McLaughlin, Co-Pilot Lt. L.J. Camp, Crew Chief Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Brandon Blessing, Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 3rd Class Ryan Barrios, SAR Medical Technician Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Brock Hite, and Flight Surgeon Lt. Ryan Vest.
Longhorn 04 launched from NASF with Mission Commander Lt. Michael Platt, Co-Pilot Lt Andy Conner, Crew Chief Naval Aircrewman (Tactical Helicopter) 2 Daniel Dotras, and SMTs Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Raymundo Soria, Hospitalman Brian Kennedy, and Hospitalman Daniel Walters.
When the Longhorns arrived, things did not look good for the victims, with four of them in need of serious medical attention.
"I could tell by the vital calls from our SMT and flight surgeon that the patients needed to get to Renown ASAP," said McLaughlin. "They were very busy in back and did an excellent job of getting the patient update information to the hospital ahead of our arrival. We flew as fast as we could but could not accept a direct route as the visibility was degraded and the clouds covered most of the higher terrain along our route. As we got closer to Reno, the weather improved and we were able to fly a more direct path to Pickett Park. By the time we arrived to the park immediately across from the ER, security had already cleared the area which expedited our landing. Staff was standing by with stretchers and our crews immediately began helping them unload the patients."
The victims arrived at Renown Hospital in Reno at 1315, and were immediately transfer to the trauma unit, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Longhorns.
"Overall, our crews did an excellent job of executing exactly what we train to do: safely helping those in need," said McLaughlin. "While most of our training is carried out in the technical high-altitude environment on the range, our skills are directly transferable to civilian MEDEVAC missions when called upon. Our SMTs are continuously developing their capabilities and honing their medical skills. They train very hard and have extremely high standards. Without their skill set on our team, the MEDEVAC could have gone very differently."
Heiss said he was glad the flight crew and corpsmen were able to overcome the challenges present and provide lifesaving support for the victims of this accident.
"In my mind, the Longhorn crews are true heroes for their dedication to the mission of rescuing those in dire need," added Easley. "I know that the Longhorns make difficult jobs and situations look commonplace and easy, but that's why they are the best of the best and I have total respect for all they do. I wanted them to know how much their efforts on Saturday, May 7, were appreciated by not only me, but a lot of others, and I'm sure the patients surely realized how fortunate they were that the Navy was able to come to their rescue."
For more information, visit http://www.navy.mil, http://www.facebook.com/usnavy, or http://www.twitter.com/usnavy.
For more news from Naval Air Station Fallon, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/nasf/.