By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joan E. Jennings, Navy Public Affairs Support Element West, Det. Whidbey Island
OAK HARBOR, Wash. – Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) Search and Rescue (SAR) provides support overland and overwater throughout the Pacific Northwest.
NASWI SAR has assisted in nine rescues this year and two of their rescues were last week, July 15 and July 18.
“The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful part of the country with some varied and challenging terrain,” said Lt. Marguerite Champlin, a pilot with NASWI SAR. “Our fellow pilots fly a variety of missions and depend on us to respond if they need us.
“Also, this area is filled with outdoor enthusiasts from the day hikers to extreme backpackers, cross country skiers, snowmobilers, and fisherman,” said Champlin.
On July 15, NASWI SAR members rescued two outdoor enthusiasts, Johannah Lutz, a family/urgent care physician assistant from Portland, and her husband Micah Bates, a physician practicing in neurosurgery, who had plans to backpack one of the trails in the North Cascades.
According to Lutz and Bates, they hiked in six miles and set up camp after the first night. The next morning, July 14, Lutz became very nauseous with severe lower abdominal pain. Her pain was so intense and aggressive that she could not keep any food or water down, and she was quickly becoming dehydrated.
Bates had to make a tough decision to stay with his wife or leave her to get help, and then around 5 p.m., he ran down the trailhead for help, said Lutz.
“I had mixed feelings when Micah went for help,” she said. “We had been tossing around options for hours, weighing the risks and benefits.”
Lutz said that NASWI SAR was able to spot her flashlight’s beam of light.
“I think I first heard the helicopter around midnight,” Lutz said. “Micah and I never discussed any form of air rescue, so at first I thought they were looking for someone else. When I realized they could be looking for me I began shining my light at my somewhat reflective rain-fly.”
Lutz said the SAR crew took great care of her, addressed her symptoms properly, and took her to a nearby hospital.
“SAR was very efficient, and they explained everything before beginning any move,” Lutz said. “They put me at ease and had remarkable bedside manner for 1 a.m. in a loud and unsteady environment.”
It was there that Lutz learned her condition was critical, and she was diagnosed with ovarian torsion, a condition if left untreated that could lead to internal bleeding and death.
“It was very rewarding to get her to further emergency care and to possibly save her life,” said Naval Aircrewman 2nd Class Tim Hawk.
Prior to Lutz’s rescue she was unfamiliar with the Navy and did not realize the importance it played in the civilian lives.
“I am grateful, and I’m so glad SAR was available and determined to find me,” Lutz said. “They were thorough in my care and I will certainly never forget this adventure.”
NASWI’s Search and Rescue Unit provides support for the base tenant commands, in particular the jets that operate out of NASWI. The pilots and air crewman are highly trained in both overwater and mountain rescue, which allows them to respond to military or civilian maritime or overland distress calls.
“As a pilot, I’m responsible for the safe conduct of the flight from start to finish whether it is a routine training mission or an actual rescue,” Champlin said. “That includes communications both inside and out of the aircraft, mission planning, navigation, and mountain flying. But as a pilot of a crew of five, I’m only a small part of the mission. Our true success comes from our teamwork as a crew.”
The NASWI SAR team is made up of 10 civilians and 39 military. They operate three MH-60s Knighthawk helicopters, and they are outfitted with the various types of rescue equipment for both overland maritime environments.
Naval Aircrewman 1st Class Jesse Peterson, NASWI SAR aircrew leading petty officer, said he enjoys his job as an aircrewman and especially in the SAR community.
“It’s a fairly small community and we all seem to know each other,” Peterson said. “The friendships I’ve made with my fellow SAR air crewman are some that will last a lifetime.”