Photo by Hannah Kearse

Search and rescue aviation

Montana Army National Guard flies into Sheridan

Two military helicopters landed in a Sheridan field Feb. 9. The Montana Army National Guard flew into the Ruby Valley from Helena to speak with Search and Rescue teams in the area. In an effort to better integrate with Montana SAR, the Army National Guard  explained their aviation capabilities in assisting with reconnaissance and search and rescue operations. “I hate to see this kind of equipment sitting on a ramp when it could be out saving a life,”  Montana Army Aviation Officer, Col. Jamie Wilkins said.

MTARNG can provide air support for search and rescue missions when loss of life, limb or eyesight is threatened. Federal dollars pay the $55,000-an-hour bill to fly the Medevac Black Hawk helicopter. Col. Wilkins urged communities to not hesitate on requesting MTARNG assistance because once a mission is declared a recovery, MTARNG must cease and desist. The sheriff is responsible for requesting MTARNG assistance. MTARNG brought  the same Medevac helicopter that assisted Madison County Aug. 11, 2019, after a microburst in the Tobacco Root Mountains stranded four hikers near Bell Lake. The pilot for that mission, Guy Welborn, was also in attendance at the informational training seminar in Sheridan. Ruby Valley SAR invited neighboring SAR teams to learn more about MTARNG assistance in search and rescue missions. “We like to work together when we have the chance,” Ruby Valley SAR member Clayton Marxer said. The Beaverhead SAR team was the first to hear the low-frequency hum of the approaching Black Hawk from inside.

Snow whipped from the ground, concealing the helicopters as they landed one at a time. A cold mist traveled outward. Onlookers shielded their faces from a brisk dusting as the bug-like outlines gradually reappeared. About 40 people in attendance, representing five SAR teams and the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, explored the helicopters.  Nine MTARNG soldiers answered questions and discussed equipment. Availability or situations determine SAR teams’ options for aviation support, starting with the Malstrom Airforce Base’s 40th Helicopter Squadron, then Life Flight, then MTARNG and lastly, the DeMontana’s Army National Guard lands a HH-60m MEDEVAC Black Hawk helicopter next to the Department of Agriculture building in Sheridan Feb. 9. partment of Natural Resources and  Conservation. MTARNG is available 24/7, but is limited in certain landing conditions, including wind direction and the amount of snow on the ground. Ski kits for the helicopters and specific pilot certifications are some of the ways that MTARNG is working to expand their capabilities.

Further training opportunities, from equipment familiarization to hands-on exercises, are available upon SAR  teams’ requests. “We’re here for you,” MTARNG Sargent Bob Shearer said.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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