DVIDS – News – Rescue pilots rescue Arizona woman who fell 200 feet into a mine shaft


The distress call for the civilian search and rescue mission came in on a Sunday afternoon – a woman, possibly broken bones, 300 miles away, trapped, 200 feet deep, in a mine shaft.

From three possible rescue units, the Air Force Rescue Coordination Cell selected the 563rd Rescue Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, for this rescue mission.

The 563rd assigned the 48th Rescue Squadron, which consists of paratroopers and tactical air control specialists, and the 55th Rescue Squadron, which operates HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopters. In less than an hour, the 48th RQS assembled an eight-person Rotary Wing Team – the name given to a mission-assigned rescue team – at the same time as the 55th RQS deployed two HH-60Ws; ongoing and regular maintenance of the HH-60Ws was assigned to the 55th Rescue Generation Squadron, which tightened the screws and serviced the helicopter before takeoff.

The U.S. Air Force pajamas and mission combat rescue officers brought me into their team room to tell the story. Surprisingly well lit, I glanced at the table as I sat down. Printed pictures of various rescue moments from past missions and operations were well preserved under the glass table protection.

Like many members of the rescue community, she found it strange to be interviewed by a public affairs specialist. I understand that it is quite normal for PJs to prefer anonymity and little to no public attention.

The first CRO began to tell the story. He had short brown hair and strong features that matched his confidence when he spoke.

Almost 500 kilometers away, a woman was trapped at the bottom of a mine shaft. It was a technical rescue, a rope rescue, he explained. They had trained and prepared for it. There was a quiet murmur of agreement from his teammates at the table.

I asked them what it was like to get that call. Immediately they all smiled excitedly. I could see that they loved their work. One person spoke up and said that it was always a bittersweet moment; saving someone's life was an incredible experience, but always tied to someone's worst day.

DM's PJs are always on call and provide pararescue capabilities not only in combat conditions, but also in humanitarian situations worldwide.

Like a rehearsed play, the next soldier picked up the story where the CRO left off, but I know that wasn't planned. From the sergeant to the staff officer, all the soldiers at the table shared an unspoken bond of mutual respect.

He said the 55th RQS flight crew skillfully navigated and dropped the RW team less than 100 meters from the mine shaft, landing without incident in the middle of extremely rough terrain in the middle of the night; a true testament to the skills of these combat-hardened pilots and special operations airmen.

A corporal, who I think was the most excited to tell his part of the story, put his hand around his face. He imitated the action and said that they had shouted into the mine shaft, but the distance had silenced their cries and also muffled the woman's cries for help.

A pajama-clad medic with curly brown hair and piercing blue eyes picked up where the corporal had left off, stressing the importance of rescuing the woman and providing her with more precise and effective medical care that was not possible in the mine shaft. By this point, the woman had already been underground for nearly 12 hours, with no contact with the surface, alone and literally in the dark, as coordination above the surface was very complex. Her friend, who called the authorities for help, was equally stressed above the surface.

The second paramedic, who had blond hair and was noticeably strong, praised the rescue efforts of the various agencies, not just the Air Force. The La Paz County Sheriff's Office work truck provided a solid anchor point for the PJs to descend the vertical passage to the woman. Equipped with a breathing apparatus and an air safety testing device, the paramedic descended. The second paramedic, typing on a laptop, looked up but kept typing as he added information: Air quality underground can be volatile.

The CRO, who had begun the recount, stated that the air underground was safe to breathe and that the risk of rescue was moderate because the wooden support beams were rotten and the navigation route underground was unknown.

As they evolved into rescuers, these Airmen were trained to be ready, willing and capable combatants. These human weapon systems were further enhanced when they were assigned to the 355th Squadron, one of the Air Force's only active duty squadrons dedicated to combat search and rescue. After watching so many training exercises, I realize how seriously they take their jobs and how precisely they execute them. Then I saw the switch flip from mission to human and saw each member's eyes fill with compassion as they told this story.

The PJs made contact with survivors, provided medical care to the woman's broken ankle, and successfully rescued her from the complex man-made cave. She was then airlifted to Yuma Regional Medical Center using the same 55th Regiment helicopters and crews that had brought the RW team to the scene. Once at the hospital, the second PJ medic personally carried her to the hospital and handed her off to the YRMC medical team, concluding the mission on April 7.

Moments like these make me proud to be part of an Air Force that has sworn an oath to protect the country and the community in which it serves.

Date taken: 31.05.2024
Release Date: 31.05.2024 13:33
Story ID: 472750

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Anna Harden

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