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CBP Aircrew Faces ‘High Risk’ During Rescue at 6,000 Feet

Release Date: 
April 22, 2014

TUCSON, Ariz. – Just nine days after agents from the U.S. Border Patrol and the Office of Air and Marine’s (OAM) Tucson Air Branch rescued a severely injured hiker near Gunsight, Ariz., an OAM aircrew found themselves involved in yet another rescue mission.

At approximately 3:30 a.m. Saturday, the Nogales Border Patrol Station was contacted by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office to report a 911 call concerning two undocumented aliens, a husband and wife, lost in steep terrain southeast of Tucson. The husband also stated his wife was experiencing chest pains.

The call was referred to an on-duty BORSTAR agent and, by 7:30 a.m., Tucson’s Air Branch launched an AS-350 helicopter with a BORSTAR agent onboard to evaluate the situation.

In less than 30 minutes, the AS-350 crew reported visual contact with the subjects on Squaw Peak at an elevation of over 6,000 feet. The helicopter was unable to land due to steep terrain, and ground agents were three hours away from the scene.  Off-duty personnel were called in and by 8:36 a.m. a UH-60 “Black Hawk” crew was launched.

Air crews were also advised that, because of severe weather in the area, the mission was considered high risk.

At 9 a.m., the Black Hawk was overhead and beginning hoist rescue operations.  This already difficult rescue under high winds and isolated thunderstorms in the area was made even more difficult with a temporary flight restriction due to a wild land fire one mile from the rescue scene.

Still, 40 minutes later the Black Hawk crew reported the hoist rescue complete with the female patient transferred to a ground ambulance.

The patient was later hospitalized for advanced cardiac care and her husband was turned over to the Border Patrol for processing.

According to Mitch Pribble, director of Tucson Air Branch, the Black Hawk flight crew consisted of two pilots, a hoist operator, a safety officer, and an OAM emergency medical technician who was lowered to the couple to administer field medical treatment. “The dedication and professionalism demonstrated by the crew while conducting this life saving rescue under very difficult circumstances reflect greatly, not only on themselves, but also the Office of Air and Marine and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

In remote or rugged locations, a number of variables can change suddenly and escalate minor incidents into dangerous situations. Border Patrol or OAM agents are often the first to respond to emergencies in rural and remote areas. 

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