MARFA, Texas — On the morning of December 8, 2017, an Air Interdiction Agent (AIA) with Air and Marine Operations’ Alpine Air Unit, rescued a group of 15 illegal aliens who were lost in the desert and suffering from extreme hypothermia.
Upon landing at the scene, AIA Derek Richardson – an Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the elite Air and Marine Emergency Medical Services (AMEMS) program – immediately began assessing and triaging the individuals. One individual was deceased on arrival. The remaining 14 individuals were all in various states of distress and hypothermia.
After assessing vital signs on all of the individuals, AIA Richardson began rendering medical care and called for additional assistance from the United States Border Patrol (USBP) - Big Bend Sector EMT program. AIA Richardson continued prolonged field care for the individuals, and once additional EMTs arrived, developed a casualty evacuation plan to move people down from the top of the mountain where they were located. Less critical patients were moved by USBP agents in their vehicles, while critical patients were moved by AIA Richardson in the Eurocopter AS350 helicopter he was piloting.
After moving five individuals down the mountain via helicopter and nine others down via USBP vehicle, AIA Richardson turned over patient care to local EMTs who had arrived near the evacuation site in ambulances. The ambulances transported the injured to Big Bend Regional Medical Center (BBRMC) in Alpine for further evaluation and treatment.
One of the more critical patients went into cardiac arrest during transport and had to be flown from BBRMC to a trauma center for more advanced care. All individuals were determined to be illegal aliens from Guatemala who had been walking through the desert for approximately a week. The Big Bend area fell under an unexpected winter storm warning on Wednesday.
“While the loss of even one life is tragic, the heroic efforts of our expertly trained agents responding to this chaotic, mass-casualty event clearly saved 14 lives from certain death,” said Supervisory Air Interdiction Agent and AMEMS Program Manager Jeff Birks. “Their immediate and enduring response, under the harshest of conditions, reflects great credit upon themselves and our agency.”
AIA Richardson was on patrol with USBP Agent Jesus Flores when they located the group’s trail in the snow on the side of mountain. After following the trail some distance, they were able to guide USBP – Marfa Station agents to the location of the individuals. AIA Richardson was able to land near the group and render immediate medical aid.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the unified border agency within the Department of Homeland Security charged with the management, control and protection of our nation's borders at and between the official ports of entry. CBP is charged with keeping terrorists and terrorist weapons out of the country while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws.