Osan helicopter crew braves weather on hospital run
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — A South Korean woman having a heart attack on an island off South Korea’s west coast was flown to medical treatment Wednesday by a U.S. Air Force helicopter from Osan Air Base.
The helicopter, an HH-60G Pave Hawk assigned to Detachment 1, 33rd Rescue Squadron, took off from Osan Air Base to Yeong Pyeong Do to pick up the 74-year- old woman, according to base officials.
The crew flew her to a South Korean naval base in Incheon, where she was hospitalized, officials said Thursday. They said Thursday night they had no word on her condition.
The detachment drew the rescue assignment because its HH-60s make it the only peninsula unit equipped to handle the kind of low visibility the forecasters thought the pilots might face, said Air Force 1st Lt. Jennifer Geeslin, an Osan spokeswoman.
Forecasters had no weather data for the specific site but, based on what they did have for an area 30 or 40 miles from the island, they thought visibility there could be very low, maybe even zero, Geeslin said.
Based on that, authorities concluded the mission might best be passed to Osan’s HH-60s, which have special equipment for poor visibility and other bad weather conditions, she said.
Those three features are a special “weather radar,” a cockpit instrument display that helps pilots navigate in limited visibility and an “altitude hold system” that allows the aircraft to keep to a steady altitude over land or water.
Although stationed at Osan Air Base, Detachment 1 is part of the 33rd Rescue Squadron at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.
On Wednesday, the helicopter’s crewmembers were in their quarters at the tail end of a regularly scheduled crew rest when South Korean authorities notified Osan Air Base of the woman’s plight, Geeslin said.
At 2:52 p.m., they got the word to go. By 3:31, they put down, got the woman aboard, and were in the air again, headed for the naval base at Incheon, which they reached at 4:08 p.m. By 4:23 p.m. they were back on the flight line at Osan.
Geeslin identified those aboard as Capt. Chris Spindler, pilot; Capt. James Humphrey, co-pilot; Tech. Sgt. Thomas Bielawski, flight engineer; Tech. Sgt. Erin Thorson, aerial gunner; two pararescue team personnel, team leader Staff Sgt. Bembry King and team member Senior Airman Christopher Darrow; and Lt. Col. Lee Harvis, flight surgeon.