FALLON, Nev. (NNS) (NNS) -- West of Snow Mountain, near the North Fork of the American River, where a high school church group was camped, fingers frantically tapped on the glass of a smartphone. What started as a call for help for a single patient having seizures, escalated to four patients having medical issues.
With the sun fully beyond the horizon and the darkness of night starting to set in, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protect Services (CAL FIRE) received the distress call. A ground rescue team was mobilized and preceded to walk the remote trail to the camp site. A California Highway Patrol helicopter responded to the call, but was unable to find a suitable area to land. The ground rescue team met one of the patients on the trail, and was able to provide aid. They learned that another had been transported via a private vehicle. The two remaining patients, a 15-year-old girl, and a 17-year-old boy, remained at the camp site. Help would be needed to get them out.
In the dead of the night, about 84 miles away in Fallon, Nevada, duty phones started ringing.
"Initial information on the actual status of the patient or patients in distress was very fragmented," said Lt. Andrew Conner, mission commander for the flight. "We were not sure exactly what the situation would be when we arrived on scene, but we knew our training had prepared us for almost anything we would see."
Several hours after the initial distress call, the rotors of an MH-60S Knighthawk, attached to the Longhorns of Naval Air Station Fallon (NASF), began to turn. A short time later, the Longhorns were airborne and in route to the scene.
"When we checked in over the radio with the CAL FIRE Incident Commander after arriving on scene, he asked if we were Coast Guard or Army," said Conner. "When we told him we were a Navy helicopter he seemed surprised but excited when he replied 'Navy? All right we'll take the Navy!'"
As the Longhorn pilots, Conner and Lt. Larry Camp, positioned the bird to begin recovery operations, CAL FIRE's ground rescue team arrived on scene. Not knowing the condition of the patients, the pilots waved off so the ground team could assess the situation.
Ten minutes later, the ground team called on the Longhorns to hoist the patients out of the site and transport them to a Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.
"The site where the victims were located demanded a technical rescue due to the rugged terrain deep within the High Sierra Mountain Range," said NASF operation's officer, Cmdr. Kevin Heiss. "The victims were near the shoreline of the American River which was nestled deep within a very tight canyon with 3000-4000 foot cliff walls on either side, while the tree canopy alongside the river was as high as 200 feet, which prevented landing. The rescue crew chief, Petty Officer 3rd Class Drew Hayes, set up the cabin for a high rappel as the pilots positioned the helicopter in a high hover near the river's edge. Once ready, Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Ribiero, the Helicopter Inland Rescue Aircrewman, conducted a rappel through a small opening in the tree canopy and touched down alongside the two victims. After assessing and packaging the patients, both were quickly hoisted into helicopter and transported to the nearest trauma center in Reno, nearly 40 miles away, while the SAR Medical Technician, Petty Officer Brock Hite, provided in-flight care."
"My primary concern at that time was to get the female patient into the aircraft first before she had another seizure," said Hite. "I assessed her condition and placed her in a troop seat and strapped her in. As the crew chief was in the process of pulling up the next patient, I glanced over to the patient to ensure she was okay and she began to have convulsions. The episode only last a few seconds and she came back to, able to articulate what was happening. About 10 minutes out, she had another seizure that last for a few seconds. As we were transferring the patients to the hospital staff she had a third seizure where she was treated by the hospital's emergency room."
Almost 6 hours after the initial call for help, the Longhorns touched down near Renown in Reno.
"Overall, the mission was a success," said Conner. "We safely hoisted two distressed patients from a canyon at night and delivered them to a higher level of care. This is exactly the type of mission we train to everyday, and we are happy that we were able provide our capabilities when they were needed."
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